Communicating Effectively with A Person Who Has Alzheimer’s

I know thseniorsat if I keep on repeating it, eventually she will remember that this is where she lives.  I’ve tried so many times to correct her, and it does no good, she still wants to pack her bags and “go home”.  Sometimes she becomes very insistent and seems to feel that I am negating her.  Insistence turns into agitation.  What am I doing wrong?

This demonstrates the frustration of so many family caregivers.  Despite the challenges, you can communicate effectively with your loved one so she or he feels understood, safe, and secure.

The first and most important step is to get into your loved one’s world.  Find out why she/he wants to go home.  The second step is to divert his/her attention.  You might say, “Okay.  First you need a snack.  Are you feeling hungry?  I have some of your favorite cookies here for you.”

Notice, we did not correct her desire to “go home”.  That will cause agitation.  Instead we valued and respected his/her request.  Then we offered another activity that would help him/her forget about the desire to “go home”.  Other tips to communicate effectively with your loved one include the following:

Stay present and speak clearly.  Maintain eye contact, and stay near your loved one so that he or she will know that you’re listening and trying to understand.  Speak in a clear straightforward manner.

Show respect.  Avoid secondary baby talk and diminutive phrases such as “good girl” or “my little honey”.  Don’t assume that your loved one can’t understand you, and don’t talk about your loved one as if he or she weren’t there.

Avoid distractions.  Communication may be difficult (if not impossible) against a background of competing sights and sounds.

Keep it simple.  Use short sentences and plain words.  As the disease progresses, yes/no questions may work best.  Ask only one question at a time.  Break down requests into simple steps.

Don’t interrupt.  It may take longer than you expect for your loved one to process and respond.  Avoid criticizing, hurrying and correcting.

Use visual cues.  Sometimes gestures or other visual cues promote better understanding than words alone.  Rather than simply asking if your loved one needs to use the toilet, for example, take him or her to the toilet and point to it.

Stay calm.  Even when you’re frustrated, keep your voice gentle.  The tone of your voice can send a clearer message than what you actually say.

Communicating with your loved one may be challenging, especially as the disease progresses.  Remember, however, you loved one isn’t acting this way on purpose.  He or she has lost the ability to think clearly, to learn anything new, or to re-learn anything forgotten.  Don’t take it personally.  Use patience and understanding to help your loved one feel safe and secure.