By the Alzheimer’s Association, Midlands Chapter, Omaha, NE
- Pay attention to your tone of voice. Tone is as important as the words you say because the person with Alzheimer’s (AD) can sense your emotions.
- Explain your actions and break tasks and instructions into clear, simple steps, giving one step at a time.
- Ask one question at a time and give him time to respond. Rushing him will increase his confusion.
- Repeat questions or information using the same phrasing and words used before.
- Talk in positive terms. Limit the number of “don’ts” and avoid giving harsh or direct orders.
- Avoid expressions that she may take too literally (i.e., “shake a leg”).
- Demonstrate your request by pointing at or touching things.
- Use names when referring to other individuals, instead of saying “he” or “she.”
- Treat him with dignity and respect; remember that he is an adult. It is often easy to “talk down” to someone because you are using simple words or sentences. Remember that pet names such as “honey” can sound condescending.
- Ignore harmless hallucinations or delusions. Confrontation may make the situation worse. Respond with reassurance. Redirect her to another activity.
- If he looks as though he is not paying attention, try to communicate again in a few minutes.
- Use non-verbal communication (a smile, a hug) to reinforce verbal communication or to communicate when she can no longer understand words.
Helping the Person with Alzheimer’s Communicate:
- Helping someone communicate takes patience and understanding. Be calm and supportive.
- Maintain eye contact and use touch to reassure him and show that you are listening.
- Show your interest in what she is saying or feeling.
- Pay attention to his voice and gestures for clues to what he is feeling. Sometimes, his emotions are more important than what he is trying to say.
- If you don’t understand what she is trying to say, let her know, and encourage her to point or gesture.
- If he cannot find a word, he may be less frustrated if you offer a guess.
- If she uses the wrong word and you know what she means, supply the correct word. If this upsets her, do not correct future mistakes.
- If he is upset and cannot explain verbally, offer comfort and reassurance. Trying to get him to explain may make him more upset.
Helping the Person Understand:
- Approach him from the front but be aware that some individuals feel more comfortable if you talk from a handshake distance away.
- Keep confusion, distraction and noise to a minimum.
- Begin each conversation by identifying yourself and addressing her by name to orient her and get her attention.
- Speak slowly and distinctly. Use a lower voice pitch to convey a sense of calm. This also will be easier for the hearing-impaired person to hear.
- Use short, simple, familiar words and sentences.
The person with AD can understand touching better than words. Holding her hand or putting your arm around her shoulder may get through to her when nothing else can. However, if the individual did not like being touched before she had AD; she may not like to be touched now.
When using non-verbal communication, remember to move slowly and touch gently; do not startle. Look to see if he is paying attention. Stand or crouch face-to-face to maintain eye contact. A smile can give reassurance. A hug or a kiss can express affection. Eye contact and facial expressions can show that you are paying attention.
The individual with AD also may use non-verbal communication to express her feelings. Your observation and sensitivity will help you understand her message.
NOTE: It is important to assume that your loved one can understand more than she can express. Never talk about her as if she was not there.
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