One in ten Americans say they have had a family member with Alzheimer’s, and one in three knew someone with the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease can gradually diminish a person’s ability to communicate. Not only do people with AD have more difficulty expressing thoughts and emotions, they also have more trouble understanding others. The ability to exchange our ideas, wishes, and feelings is a basic need. Read more compassionate communication tips here.
Some dos and don’ts for effective communication
- Don’t reason
- Don’t argue
- Don’t confront
- Don’t remind them they forget
- Don’t question recent memory
- Don’t take it personally
- Give short, one sentence explanations
- Allow plenty of time for comprehension... then triple it
- Repeat instructions of sentences the same way
- Eliminate “but" from your vocabulary; substitute “nevertheless”
- Avoid insistence; try again later
- Agree with them or distract them to a different subject or activity
- Accept the blame when something’s wrong (even if it’s a fantasy)
- Leave the room, if necessary, to avoid confrontations
- Respond to the feelings rather than the words
- Be patient, cheerful and reassuring
- Go with the flow
- Practice 100% forgiveness
What can we do together?
Although the disease results in changes, it does not affect the person’s ability to appreciate, respond to and experience feelings such as joy, anger, fear, love or sadness.
There may be things you can no longer do with a person who has Alzheimer’s, but there is plenty you can still do.
- Clip coupons
- Bake cookies
- Rake leaves
- Listen to relaxing music
- Plant seeds
- Look at family photos
- Play toss
- Color pictures
- Sing favorite songs
- Read a favorite story
- Take a walk
- String cheerios to hang outside for the birds
- Put a simple puzzle together
- Paint decorative place mats
- Talk about the past
How to manage difficult behavior
If you know someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you may sometimes find their behavior confusing, irritating or difficult to deal with, leaving you feeling stressed, irritable or helpless. By understanding what causes this type of behavior and learning some ways to deal with it, you can make sure it happens less often, and feel better able to manage when it does.
Aggressive behaviors may be verbal (shouting, name-calling) or physical (hitting, pushing). These behaviors can occur suddenly, with no apparent reason, or can result from a frustrating situation. Whatever the case, it is important to try to understand what is causing the person to become angry or upset.
How to respond:
- Don’t take offense. Listen to what is troubling the person, and try to understand that reality. Then be reassuring, and let the person know you care.
- Don’t argue or try to convince. Allow the individual to express ideas. Acknowledge his or her opinions.
- Offer a simple answer. Share your thoughts with the individual, but keep it simple. Don’t overwhelm the person with lengthy explanations or reasons.
- Switch the focus to another activity. Engage the individual in an activity, or ask for help with a chore.
- Duplicate any lost items. If the person is often searching for a specific item, have several available. For example, if the individual is always looking for his or her wallet, purchase two of the same kind.
The person with Alzheimer’s may not recognize familiar people, places, or things. He or she may forget relationships, call family members by other names or become confused about where home is. The person may also forget the purpose of common items, such as a pen or fork. These situations are extremely difficult for caregivers and require much patience and understanding.
How to respond:
- Stay calm. Although being called by a different name or not being recognized can be painful, try not to make your hurt apparent.
- Respond with a brief explanation. Don’t overwhelm the person with lengthy statements and reasons. Instead, clarify with a simple explanation.
- Show photos and other reminders. Use photographs and other thought-provoking items to remind the person of important relationships and places.
- Offer corrections as suggestions. Avoid explanations that sound like scolding. Try “I think he is your grandson John,” or “I thought you already ate lunch.”
- Try not to take it personally. Remember, Alzheimer’s causes your loved one to forget, but your support and understanding will continue to be appreciated.