June 4, 2018

Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month – Communication

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month.  Dementia causes problems with remembering things, paying attention, focusing, and making decisions.  All of these skills are important for good communication.  The patient may have a hard time understanding and remembering what others say.  The patient may feel cut off from the world.

Also, dementia causes problems with language.  A patient may forget the right word, or use one word while meaning something else.  The patient may no longer be able to tell others about feelings, physical pain, or basic needs like using the bathroom.  This can be frustrating for the patient and the caregiver.  According to The Caregiver Notebook, authored by Jennifer Martindale-Adams, Ed.D., Robert Burns, M.D., and Linda O. Nichols, Ph.D., the following are ways to help communicate with the dementia patient:

Reduce distractions.

  • Set aside a quiet place in your home that is used only for talking
  • Reduce or get rid of visual distractions.
  • Keep background noise as low as possible.
  • “Mixed” messages can be distracting.  Your words and the way you say them should agree with how you feel and what you mean.
  • Some patients get uncomfortable when you sit or stand too close.  If this is the case, talk to the patient from an arm’s-length away.
  • You may have trouble keeping the patient’s attention on the conversation or task at hand.  Stop and try to talk to the patient again in a few minutes.

Make your messages positive and easier to understand.

  • Keep words and sentences short.  Stick with words you think the patient knows best.
  • Ask questions one at a time.  The patient will need more time to respond to questions.  She may become more confused if rushed to give an answer.
  • If you need to repeat questions or statements, try to use the same words the first time.
  • Even though you must keep communication simple, try not the “talk down” to the patient.
  • Try not to challenge or argue with the patient about hallucinations or delusions.  These are a natural and common effect of the disease.  If the patient is frightened by a hallucination, reassure her and redirect her attention.
  • Try not to say things in front of the patient you don’t want him to hear.

Make use of nonverbal cues and information.

  • Speak calmly in a gentle tone and in a low-pitched voice.
  • Maintain eye contact and stay near the person.
  • Acting out an activity is sometimes easier than using words alone.
  • Non-verbal communication can be very useful when you are expressing emotion to the patient.  The patient may understand a smile, touch, or hug even when words are no longer meaningful.

Help the patient communicate with you.

  • You may be able to make out the words the patient is saying but not make sense of them.  The patient may be using a word that sounds similar to the word she is trying to say.  If the patient cannot find a word or uses a wrong word, you can offer a guess, but not if it upsets the patient.
  • Repeat back to the patient what you think he is saying to be sure you understand.
  • The patient may use swear words, even if he has never used them before.  Keep in mind that this is part of the disease.
  • The patient may repeat things.  Some patients can remember only a few words.  The words the patient repeats may not have anything to do with what is going on at the time.

For more information on communicating with a person living with dementia or for 24 hour caregiver support, contact the South Arkansas Center on Aging at 870-881-8969.