How to Talk to Someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

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The effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia not only hinder a person’s memory, but they can also diminish a person’s communication skill, and they lose their ability to have long, extensive conversations. While it might seem difficult or wearisome to talk to someone with a memory impairment sometimes, there are strategies that can help enhance communication. Here are four tips on how to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia:

Prepare for the conversation

Before you begin to talk, make sure the atmosphere is appropriate and as distraction-free as possible. The Alzheimer’s Society recommends that you turn off the TV or radio, provide ample lighting, and get the person’s full attention before you begin. Make direct eye contact and sit near them, while positioning yourself with open and relaxed body language. Additionally, it’s a good idea to make sure their other needs (like hunger or using the bathroom) are met before the conversation begins. (Related: Behavioral Challenges and Solutions for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers.)

Communicate clearly and concisely

Speak to the person like you normally would before their Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Don’t say “Do you remember?” or speak in long, complicated sentences. Rather, try to keep your dialogue short, direct, calm, and a bit slower than normal. If you run into a disagreement, don’t argue or use statements like “you’re wrong.” Avoid open-ended questions such as “What would you like to do today?” Instead, ask things with “yes” or “no” answers, such as “Do you want to go to the park?”

Get creative when dialogue isn’t enough

Sometimes visual or written cues can help you explain a message with words. The Alzheimer’s Association says you can point at an item to help demonstrate a task, use written notes when spoken words are confusing on their own, or use touch, sights, sounds, smells, and tastes to help communicate. The reverse works, too: when you’re having trouble understanding what a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is trying to communicate verbally, look at their body language or facial expressions for guidance.

Be patient when talking to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia

While it can be frustrating waiting for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia to finish a thought or remember certain details, AgingCare points out that you should resist the urge to complete their sentences, as it won’t help them remember and might be a source of frustration. Instead, try to jog their memory with short questions when appropriate.

Finally, remember that each case of Alzheimer’s is different, so don’t assume there is one “best” way to talk to the person—be respectful and patient and take the conversation one step at a time.

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