Communicating with Alzheimer’s Patients: Tips for Family Caregivers

We know that there are nearly 5.4 million people in the United States currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease which is now the sixth leading cause of death with many more new sufferers to follow as the population ages.

We also know that Alzheimer’s is a disease marked by a disruption in memory that leads to difficulty carrying out activities of daily life.  This is not a normal aging process.  Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia but there are other types with equally devastating effects.

Caregivers of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s are caring for family members day in and day out and putting in an estimated  $219 Billion worth of unpaid care.

The statistics are daunting and research is happening now to find a cure and hopefully at the very least, some treatment to help those who care.

Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers in for a Long Battle

Because people with Alzheimer’s lose function and memory over time, it is a long grueling battle for them and for their family caregivers.

Gradually people are unable to follow directions either spoken or written. They forget experiences first that just happened and eventually what happened in the past, including the ability to recognize their loved ones.

Those with Alzheimer’s eventually become unable to provide any care for themselves, including such basic tasks as tooth brushing, dressing, eating or drinking, toileting, walking and other personal care activities. Many also will forget where they are or where they should go so begin to wander and even elope. In addition, many sufferers become aggressive, argumentative and have behaviors that are not only hard to control but dangerous for their caregivers.

Alzheimer’s Communications Strategies

  • Speak to your loved one using clear and concise language. Speak slowly. Ask direct questions requiring yes and no answers that won’t frustrate your loved one as they struggle to remember the words to answer your questions.
  • Talk both low and slow.  Ask one question at a time instead of rapid fire, waiting for an answer before asking another. Use a calm voice.
  • Make face to face contact, look directly into their eyes and gain their focus before trying to get an answer.
  • Give a direction in a simple sentence with a great deal of details. “Put the blue plate onto the table in front of you” instead of “set the table, there are the plates”.
  • Use appropriate facial expressions to set the mood desired. If you show your frustration, anger or fear that is the way your loved one will respond to you.
  • Limit choices that you offer, giving just two options if possible, such as do you want an apple or a banana instead of we have grapes, bananas, kiwi and applesauce in the fridge – which one do you want for lunch later?
  • Repeat your questions, directions or chitchat if you don’t think you had their focus instead of getting upset over their lack of response.
  • Watch your body language. Just like your tone of voice, your body movements might be conveying the wrong message in your loved one’s mind resulting in inappropriate responses.

The more you know about effective, purposeful communication with your senior afflicted with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, the less stress you will feel as a caregiver and they will as the one for whom you are caring.

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