Seniors with Alzheimer's: Communication Tips for Caregivers and Loved Ones
Alzheimer’s impacts memory retention, which in turn impacts communication. Seniors experiencing memory loss may be prone to withdraw from others, becoming disoriented when they lose their train of thought. This may cause them to shut down and become frustrated, making it difficult for them to communicate effectively with their loved ones and caregivers.
This breakdown in communication can be trying - for seniors, caregivers, and loved ones alike -, but there are ways to improve communication. Our senior care staff working in our memory care community have gathered some great tips for how you can improve and maintain communication with a senior who has Alzheimer’s.
Tip #1: Stay Centered and Patient
Rushing someone with Alzheimer’s or pushing them to finish their train of thought may produce further frustration and may hurt the lines of communication. Move slowly, try again, and breathe. Create a safe space where the senior doesn't feel judged or rushed, but instead feels encouraged and supported. While it may be difficult at times, this patient approach will provide the most lasting and positive results.
Tip #2: Minimize External Distractions
To improve communication with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, you’ll want to find a place where distractions are minimal. External stimuli can feel agitating or distracting, so a calm, quiet environment will help the senior stay focused and in the moment.
Tip #3: Keep Sentences Short and Simple
Keep sentences short and simple, while still speaking to the senior as an adult. Assuming a ‘babying’ tone can sometimes feel condescending to the senior, making them feel less capable. Speak clearly and slow down your rate of speech if necessary. Get to the point as efficiently as possible, as irrelevant or unnecessary details may confuse the senior.
Tip #4: Affirm and Fill in the Blank
When asking a question, it may be easier to stick with questions that can be answered with "yes" or "no." However, a senior with Alzheimer's may say "yes" or "no" without really understanding the question. It can be helpful to rephrase the question in different terms to try and make sure they understood. Repeating the question may be helpful, too.
If the senior is struggling to find a word they are looking for, it's helpful to offer your best guess and gauge from the emotion behind the response whether or not that's what they are getting at. A lot of the art of communicating with someone who has Alzheimer's is intuiting their emotions and trying to get a feel for what they're trying to say, even if they aren't able to say it outright.
Tip #5: Don't Focus on Facts or Over-Correct
If the senior says something that is incorrect or that you may disagree with, don't become disciplinary or argumentative. Try to come from a place of understanding, focusing on the feeling behind their statement and not on the exactitude of their statements. Over-correcting a senior with dementia may make them feel more frustrated or agitated, making it more difficult for them to think clearly.
Tip #6: When Words Fail, Use Visual Cues
When it comes to communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s, it’s really helpful to use more than just our words. Hand gestures, pointing, or exaggerated facial expressions help immensely.
Pictures are great resources, too. For example, if you’re talking about your daughter, don’t just say her name—pull up a picture of her, either from a frame or from one that's saved on your phone or camera.
Tip #7: Get Active and Take Breaks
Regardless of whether or not you are suffering from memory loss, everyone needs a break from time to time. Communication can be very taxing, so sometimes it's best to take a break and try to do something that engages the physical senses, bringing the senior back into the moment. As a part of our senior memory care program at Canyon Creek, we encourage all kinds of different sensory-activating activities, such as cooking, arts & crafts, or outings to fun and familiar places.
Memory Care Program at Canyon Creek Senior Living
Managing the feelings that come up when trying to communicate with a senior who has Alzheimer's can be very challenging. That's why we offer Alzheimer's Support Groups to families of residents. If you are looking after someone with a memory disorder, we encourage you to attend similar support groups, which can help create a space for you to express your frustrations and learn from others who may have faced similar obstacles. If you have questions about our specialized memory care program or would like to come by for a visit, we'd love to hear from you. Feel free to contact us to schedule a time to talk or visit.
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