Sometimes it is difficult to communicate with someone who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, especially as it progresses. Mistakenly, people feel that these folks no longer have things to say, or ideas to share. Yet, so many pieces of thought still remain but the ability to say them clearly is thwarted by the plaques and tangles so prevalent in this brain illness called Alzheimer’s and damage from other dementia-producing ailments.
We all communicate in order to express our thoughts or establish an emotional connection with each other: person to person, mind to mind, heart to heart. This is so true for those with Alzheimer’s. And when words fail, behaviors serve to let us know what is going on. It’s up to us make sense of whatever words we hear and behaviors we see and connect these dots when someone no longer can let us know us directly what is in their minds and hearts.
How do we reach out to connect and communicate? It all starts with a smile. Plus…
- Believe that the person you care for is still ‘there’.
- Introduce yourself each time you meet.
- Be kind, respectful and caring.
- Speak slowly and allow time for your words to register.
- Listen and go with the flow of any topic the person mentions, even if it doesn’t make sense at first.
- Connect the dots of whatever he/she says to tie together fragments of ideas and sentences.
Repeat back what you think they mean. If you are mistaken, they will let you know. And if you have understood, you have broken through the confusion to validate their thoughts or feelings. Bravo.
Judith L.London, Ph.D., Psychologist and Author
Judith L. London, Ph.D. June 2016
Dr. Judith L. London is a licensed psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in the field of Alzheimer’s and related dementias and is also the author of Connecting the Dots: Breakthroughs in Communication as Alzheimer’s Advances and Support for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers: The Unsung Heroes. Dr. London offers advice on understanding root causes of problematic behaviors common in adults with dementia and tips to improve outcomes. Following Dr. London’s “ABC Approach” can equip caregivers with the knowledge and skills to provide the best possible environment for care recipients. Dr. London is also the Alzheimer’s expert of the WebMd Alzheimer’s Community and ShareCare.com.