Communication is an important part of daily life. It enables each of us to express ideas, emotions, and needs. When someone has Alzheimer’s disease, communication abilities change, though the need for expression and connection with others does not fade.
The importance of positive communication cannot be overstated when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Communicating positively with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease involves learning about how the disease affects abilities and using specific techniques to overcome limitations caused by the disease. As family members and caregivers, communication is vital in maintaining relationships as well as providing assistance as it becomes necessary.
Alzheimer’s disease causes dramatic changes in an individual’s ability to communicate. At the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, often before an individual has received a diagnosis, changes in communication may be evident and include decreased ability to follow instructions or conversation, difficulty with word finding, and at times speaking less often.
As the disease progresses communication abilities are affected in a more pronounced way. People with the disease have clearly identifiable changes with language, both expressive and receptive. Individuals experience marked word finding problems, difficulty with organizing thoughts and sentences, increased confusion when listening to conversation, and decreased ability to understand written materials. Often times, individuals also exhibit reduced interest in conversation and communication, appearing uninterested and withdrawn.
Despite the many challenges in communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, there are specific ways to work towards improving communication to continue to share ideas, emotions and needs, and to provide a vital connection to the individual with the disease.
Caregivers can employ a number of specific tactics to improve communication. Some of the most important actions to take include showing the individual that you are interested in trying to understand what is being said, approaching the individual from the front and attempting to gain attention by stating your name and his or her name. It is important to maintain eye contact and watch your own body language and tone. As individuals with Alzheimer’s disease lose their abilities to understand words, they look for nonverbal communication cues; body language and verbal tone become very important.
Further communication techniques include limiting environmental distractions such as radio or television when conversing, speaking slowly and clearly in short simple sentences, repeating something if it isn’t understood the first time, waiting patiently for responses, and always using adult language and tone. Also, if you are both having a difficult time with a conversation or task, moving on to something else and trying again later can work. Mood, time of day, fatigue, and frustration can all contribute to communication abilities.
Sometimes when dementia progresses to the point where family caregiving is no longer possible, people choose to have their loved one move to a more supportive living environment that serves the dementia population. At these communities the staff members receive specific training about communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease. At my company’s Compass Memory Support Neighborhoods we have intensive communication training, as well as specific programs that promote positive communication throughout the day for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
No matter what stage your loved one is at in the disease process, with positive communication techniques, your network of caregivers can work to maintain vital and important connections that help promote a decent quality of life for your loved one living with Alzheimer’s.