One of the most difficult things about providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is accepting that normal communication will drastically deteriorate over time, and will eventually end altogether.
We share our lives with each other – especially our loved ones — through words. That’s what makes Alzheimer’s disease so tragic; it robs a person of his memory, as well as the ability to talk and to express love and appreciation.
Once we come to grips with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, we need to rethink how we will communicate with this person. Since the course of Alzheimer’s differs from one individual to another, there may still be quite a bit of time to communicate thoughts and feelings to the afflicted person. Here are some tips to keep the lines of communication open between the two of you.
- Patience is key. Expect to hear the same story over and over. The same goes for questions. Although you can’t be expected to listen to every repetition, acknowledge the first time your loved one tells you something.
- Don’t yell at or argue with the individual because he repeats things. He isn’t doing it to drive you crazy; he really has no idea he’s told you the story – or asked you the question – before.
- Express lots of encouragement and support when the person with Alzheimer’s does something independently or completes tasks. You could say something like, “You did a nice job getting dressed today. You look very nice.”
- If someone is coming to visit, prepare your loved one beforehand. Tell her who’s coming and practice saying the person’s name. Remind her about the visitor – who it is, how she knows her, what the visitor is going to do while at your home.
- Talk to the patient. She may not understand your words all the time, but she can still understand emotions and body language.
- When you need to do something, tell the individual what you’re doing so they won’t be alarmed: “I’m going to help you brush your teeth now.”
- When giving instructions, keep them simple. Tell the patient what to do one step at a time.
- Reduce background noise in the house when you want to communicate. Turn down the TV or radio, which can make it harder for the patient to hear your voice.
- Maintain eye contact with the person. Someone who has difficulty speaking can still understand facial expressions – happiness, anger, sadness. And you’ll be able to see these emotions on the person’s face, too, but only if you look at them when you speak to them. So try to talk to the person without doing other activities at the same time.
- As the person’s disease progresses, prepare for additional confusion and difficulty with language – expressing herself, forgetting the meaning of words, forgetting the names of objects. Gestures will become very important at this time. Get accustomed to using them with your patient.
- Alzheimer’s patients can still respond to physical affection. A hug now and then – beyond the routine of personal care – is very significant.
Most important of all, respect the dignity of the Alzheimer’s patient you care for. Recall the crucial roles the person played in his life long ago. Even though the person may not understand you on a cognitive level, sharing good memories can make for a pleasant time together for both of you.