A Guide to Alzheimer’s Communication Strategies


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other types of dementia lead to a gradual decline in mental ability. Sadly, this means individuals living with the condition often struggle to communicate with their loved ones, caregivers, and anyone else they encounter.

Effective communication with AD calls for an understanding of the disorder, as well as listening skills and a great deal of patience. Here at Alliance Homecare, we’re committed to helping seniors and their families not only achieve the best outcome but also cope with the realities of dementia. Keep reading for tips and advice on Alzheimer’s communication strategies.

How Does Alzheimer’s Affect Communication?

AD can make it difficult to recall names, dates, and facts. The disease can also cause a person to struggle with ordinary vocabulary, become confused about their surroundings, lose their train of thought, and have a hard time processing images. Some people might repeat the same phrases or questions over and over, use terms that don’t make sense, describe items instead of using the proper word for them, have trouble stringing together logical sentences, or speak less often overall.

Whether someone is suffering from cognitive decline or not, effective communication is all about understanding one another. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses into the middle and later stages, the individual may not be able to process verbal and written messages.

On the flip side, an Alzheimer’s patient may have trouble interpreting what they’re saying as well. This creates a lot of potential for miscommunications, often leaving both parties frustrated and exhausted. That’s why leveraging empathetic Alzheimer’s communication strategies is crucial through each stage of alzheimers.

Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Communication Strategies

In early-stage (or mild) Alzheimer’s, the individual is usually still able to have conversations and participate in social activities. Mild AD lasts about three years on average, but the length of time and specific symptoms vary from person to person.

Having said that, forgetfulness and confusion will typically begin to arise, which can cause communication issues. The following communication tips may be helpful once aware of the signs of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Researching the disorder can be beneficial, but try not to make assumptions about the individual’s capacity to communicate, whether they have an AD diagnosis yet or not.
  • Speak to the person with AD directly instead or through their caregiver, and don’t exclude them from discussions.
  • Listen intently and allow them to finish speaking so they have a chance to express their opinions, needs, or frustrations.
  • Ask them which method (or methods) or communication they prefer, whether it’s face-to-face discussions, text messaging, email, or talking on the phone.
  • Give the individual with AD plenty of time to respond to your questions and remarks without cutting them off or interrupting them.

While this can be a frustrating, confusing time, it’s essential for a person’s loved ones to remain patient. Also, humor can lighten the mood and be a beneficial coping mechanism, though it’s important to be sensitive to their feelings.

Middle-Stage Alzheimer’s Communication Strategies

Middle-stage Alzheimer’s disease (or moderate Alzheimer’s) is usually the longest phase, often lasting a decade or more. As the condition progresses and symptoms become more severe, communication problems will intensify. The following Alzheimer’s communication tips and strategies can be applied during this stage.

  • When speaking to the person with AD, talk slowly and clearly, enunciating your words. 
  • Try to speak one-on-one in a quiet area so that both parties can hear the other person without distractions.
  • Strive to ask no more than one question at a time, and ask yes or no questions if possible.
  • Give the individual enough time to think about your questions and remarks and formulate a response before speaking again.
  • Be patient as they speak, listen intently, and encourage them to fully explain their thoughts and feelings, no matter how long it takes them to get it out.
  • Make eye contact when conversing with them to show you’re present and care about what they have to say.
  • Try not to correct the person with AD, avoid arguments, and don’t criticize them if they’re struggling to communicate.
  • Write down words or phrases when verbal communication is creating confusion.
  • When giving instructions, offer simplified step-by-step guidance, and repeat the directions if needed.
  • Avoid talking about the individual as if they’re not there.

When the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin to disrupt a person’s ability to function with everyday life, conversations about a caregiving plan will likely arise. Using the strategies above, encourage them to participate in decisions about their living situation and care options.

Late-Stage Alzheimer’s Communication Strategies

Late-stage AD usually lasts somewhere between one and three years, though it can be much shorter or longer. Sometimes called the final stage or severe Alzheimer’s, communication can become immensely challenging at this time. If your loved one is living with severe AD, the following communication techniques might be helpful.

  • When communicating with the individual, always approach them from the front.
  • Identify yourself before speaking, even if you’re a partner, family member, close friend, or anyone else they’ve known for a long time.
  • Try non-verbal communication, such as pointing, gestures, imagery, and emphasizing your facial expression.
  • Try using the five senses to get your point across: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
  • Even if the person with AD is having trouble processing information and understanding you, treat them with respect at all times. For instance, don’t talk down to them or speak about them as if they’re not present.

Alzheimer’s disease is a complex, often bewildering disorder. Go easy on yourself and remember you don’t always have to know exactly what to say or how to act. Your commitment to helping goes a long way, and when you need outside support or aren’t sure how to proceed, Alliance Homecare is here to assist.

How an At-Home Caregiver Can Assist

Whether your loved one needs care a few days a week or around-the-clock support, the compassionate team at our fully licensed home care services agency (LHCSA) can step in. Alliance Homecare in New York was founded by Gregory Solometo, who looked after his grandmother during her five-year battle with AD. With a first-hand understanding of the challenges of Alzheimer’s communication, he was inspired to provide other individuals with top-tier care and the dedicated support they’d get from family members.

Our AD clients typically receive assistance from a home health aide with special training on the disease, along with care management oversight. Some clients also require in-home nursing care, in which case they’d get help from a private-duty nurse in addition to care from a health aide.

An in-home aide can assist with day-to-day tasks, including grooming, eating, transferring, and light housekeeping. They can also offer companionship, communication support, and guidance for families navigating Alzheimer’s disease.

Additionally, our caregivers are available for respite care. Looking after someone with a chronic illness like AD is a demanding, often draining job, both mentally and physically. Everyone needs breaks, and our NYC respite services are here when you need them. 

Alliance Homecare is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we’d love to hear from you. Contact us for more information about our in-home care for Alzheimer’s disease in the New York metro area and read our latest blog on the benefits of puzzles and memory function! 

 

External sources:

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-caregiving-changes-communication-skills

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/dementia-communication

https://pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/1092-4388(2003/028)

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-alzheimers-disease

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/caregivers/in-depth/alzheimers/art-20047540

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/alzheimers-disease/earlyonset-alzheimer-disease

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