A Caregiver’s Guide to Effective Communication: Talking to Your Loved One with Dementia

Communication is a critical part of our interactions with those around us. It’s how we exchange thoughts, express needs and nurture relationships. When communication doesn’t come easily, we often feel disconnected from those we love.

For those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, communication becomes more difficult as their loved one’s disease progresses. The degeneration of the brain not only affects their memory but also their ability to form words, think clearly, follow conversations or understand what others say to them. As frustrating as these symptoms may be for the individual, it can be just as difficult for their caregivers.

According to Jimmie Fay Griffin, Executive Director at Clarity Pointe™ Tallahassee in Tallahassee, Florida, “If you are struggling to communicate with your loved one, it’s important that you educate yourself about how Alzheimer’s disease affects communication. The key to communicating with someone with dementia is understanding their needs and behaviors.” Realizing what your loved one might be feeling, and understanding how Alzheimer’s changes them, is the first step in learning how to successfully communicate.

Communicating with Alzheimer’s

In the early stages of their Alzheimer’s disease, you may not notice any changes in your loved one’s ability to communicate. As time goes on, they may start repeating familiar phrases, cutting off mid-conversation or failing to comprehend questions you ask them. During the later stages, your loved one may struggle to express his or herself verbally or understand what others are saying. The Alzheimer’s Association® explains several problems your loved one is likely to encounter throughout this progression, including:

  • Using familiar words repeatedly
  • Inventing new words to describe familiar objects
  • Easily losing their train of thought
  • Having difficulty organizing words or forming a sentence
  • Reverting to their native language
  • Speaking less often

Since Alzheimer’s affects everyone differently, your loved one may experience only a few of these communication problems and at various stages in their disease.

Changing the Way You Communicate

As Alzheimer’s impairs your loved one’s ability to communicate verbally, you will have to put in more effort on your end side of the conversation. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America® (AFA) notes, “Alzheimer's disease or related illnesses impair a person's ability to understand words and to speak. However, they can still benefit from non-verbal communication – body language, voice tone and facial expressions. As the individual's ability to process verbal information declines, the importance of how caregivers communicate with them, verbally and non-verbally, increases.”

As you continue to communicate with your loved one, keep these expert tips in mind:

  1. Regard their feelings – Recognize that your loved one may be experiencing any combination of frustration, embarrassment, depression or confusion. Try to act in a way that comforts and reassures them.
  2. Get their attention – When you speak, say their name first to help draw their attention to the conversation. Keep eye contact to help them focus.
  3. Speak clearly – Slow down the speed of your conversation so your loved one can keep up. Talk in low, calm tones. Enunciate your words clearly.
  4. Be fully present – Make sure your loved one can see you and hear you when you’re talking. Stand or sit in front of them and check to make sure they’re wearing their glasses or hearing aids.
  5. Speak simply – Use simple words and pause for breaks. Lengthy explanations can be difficult for your loved one to follow or understand. Only ask them one thing at a time.
  6. Use visual cues – Point to objects or demonstrate what you would like your loved one to do. For instance, if you’d like them to set the table, hand them the plates as you ask.
  7. Understand body language – Pay attention to your facial expression, posture and tone of voice. Your loved one can pick up on your true emotions through these nonverbal cues.
  8. Be patient – Give your loved one plenty of time to respond when you ask a question. You may need to repeat yourself or reword the question if they have trouble answering. Try not to rush them, as this only causes frustration and confusion.
  9. Use positive phrases – Rather than saying, “Don’t leave me,” say, “Stay here with me.” Positive phrases are more direct and easier to understand.
  10. Relax – Maintaining an easy-going atmosphere will help both you and your loved one relax, making it easier to talk clearly and understand one another.

Even if your loved one no longer communicates verbally, they can still benefit from conversation and their connection to you. Chat with them about pleasant topics, friends and family or things that are meaningful to them. Taking care when talking with your loved one not only makes it easier for you two to stay connected but it also shows them how much they are loved.

We Care for Caregivers, Too

“Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for seniors with dementia and the family members who care for them,” says Griffin. “We understand that the caregiving role is vital to a loved one’s well-being.”

At Clarity Pointe, our staff are highly trained and experienced to offer expert advice on caregiving topics and concerns. If you would like to learn more about staying connected to or communicating with your loved one with Alzheimer’s, contact us or check out our event calendar for special education seminars and programs designed specifically for family caregivers and their loved ones.”

Clarity Pointe™ … Our Difference is Clear

Clarity Pointe™’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.

Opening in December 2017, Clarity Pointe Tallahassee is unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center. Clarity Pointe Tallahassee will offer four free-standing, purpose-built memory care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to memory care assisted living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.

We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.

For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.

To learn more about the Clarity Pointe™ Difference, contact us today!