One of the most persistent struggles for family and professional caregivers is communicating with a person suffering from dementia. As language and reasoning abilities decline, frustration, agitation, and arguments are more likely to arise. Here are some basic tips to remember when you interact with a person with dementia.
People with Alzheimer’s not only lose the ability to organize thoughts into sentences in order to communicate, they also forget words, and have trouble understanding written and spoken language. For this reason, when speaking to a person with Alzheimer’s it’s important to speak slowly and use simple sentences, and allow the person plenty of time to form their response. Also, when a person loses their verbal abilities, they will rely more on non-verbal cues. Always use a soothing tone of voice, keep your facial expressions friendly, and make eye contact when speaking with a person with Alzheimer’s.
People with Alzheimer’s will also lose the ability to reason, and to regulate their emotions. As you can imagine, this makes it harder for the person to cope with frustrations that come with declining cognitive function. When a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementia becomes agitated, help them shift their attention to something less disruptive, and never engage in an argument with them. As they are no longer able to rely on short term memory, abstract thought, or focused meditation on a subject to form a rational conclusion, trying to persuade them with logic often won’t be productive. In the same vein, correcting them when they have drawn a mistaken conclusion will usually only serve to upset them. Whenever possible, reassure the person and change the subject, and don’t take any negativity on their part personally.
People with Alzheimer’s also have trouble processing and filtering sensory stimuli, so it is easy for them to get overstimulated and distracted. If you are trying to engage a person with Alzheimer’s in a conversation or activity, do it in a quiet, calm place without a lot of distractions. During a busy day with lots of activity, plan breaks in the day for the person to rest and de-stress. This will help prevent agitation.
These are just a few helpful reminders for caregivers. For more advice on helping a person with Alzheimer’s, visit Alzheimer’s Texas website at www.txalz.org, or call the 24-hour caregiver helpline at 1-(512) 241-0420.