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How to Effectively Communicate With a Person Who Has Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia, affecting nearly a million people in the UK. The condition is a progressive neurological disease that interferes with multiple brain functions, most noticeably memory.

Unfortunately, there is no direct link to determine what causes Alzheimer’s but there is a common school of thought to suggest that there are a number of things which can increase the risk of developing this form of dementia. They include: lifestyle factors associated with cardiovascular disease, previous severe head injuries, increasing age and a family history of the condition.

Symptoms for Alzheimer’s develop gradually over time and generally becomes more severe after several years. The first sign of Alzheimer’s is usually slight memory loss which can include things like forgetting about recent conversations, places or names. However, other symptoms include confusion, disorientation and getting lost in familiar places.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be extremely difficult and you may feel overwhelmed at the prospect. You’re not alone. Caring for a person with AD will very much depend on whether the individual has mild, moderate or severe Alzheimer’s disease. For example, caring for someone with a mild form of the condition might require day to day help remembering planned events whereas a sufferer of severe AD will often need other professional care.

There will undoubtedly be some challenges when looking after someone with AD and one of the biggest barriers to overcome is the change in a person that is or was close to you. However, what are the challenges that come with communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s and how can this be overcome?


Example: “Communicating with my Grandad is difficult. I can never really understand what he wants which gets us both very frustrated.”

It is not unusual for someone with Alzheimer’s to struggle with communication as they often have difficult remembering things. They may indeed forget what they wanted to say all together or struggle to find the correct words for a particular situation. At times both the carer and the sufferer may feel frustrated and impatient as they wish they could understand each other. However, a good starting point is to understand what communication troubles are common which can be but is not limited to the following:

  • Inability to remember simple steps for common tasks such as cooking meals, getting dressed or paying the bills.
  • Being hypersensitive to tone and loudness of voice
  • Loss of thought when talking
  • Issues comprehending words
  • Trouble finding the right word when speaking
  • Difficulty paying attention during long conversations
  • Difficulty blocking out background noise such as the TV or radio

How to cope with variant communications skills:

The first way to try and overcome the communication problems that can occur when talking to someone with dementia is to fully appreciate and understand this is a progressive disease and often this will be reflected in a sufferer’s ability to talk to someone. For example there will definitely be changes to communication skills for those with Alzheimer’s that continue to get worse over time.

The second step to consider is to try and make communication easier. For example, for day-to-day care, the following tips can be a huge help:

  • Try to encourage a conversation to last as long as possible. This helps a person with AD feel better about themselves.
  • Use nonverbal communication signals such as a gentle touch to guide either him or her. Similarly, try to sit a position which is inclusive and promotes conversation such as keeping your arms open. Avoid negative body language such as folding your arms as this could give the impression that you are angry or annoyed.
  • Call the person by their name and continue to make eye contact for as long as you are speaking.
  • If communication becomes visibly frustrating for the individual then try to distract them with a change of topic or introducing a new activity such as going for a walk.

The most important thing to remember is that although communicating might be frustrating for you, the person with AD literally has no choice. Try and take the time to listen to the individual and the changes he or she is noticing. Be patient with those who are having trouble finding the right words or having trouble with expressing their feelings and fill pauses only when necessary.

It is also important not to put words in people’s mouths so to speak or try to fill in the blanks too quickly but as the condition worsens it will be more important to try and determine what a person with AD is trying to say. In fact, as the condition gets significantly worse, often people lose the ability to talk altogether and may rely on communicating with you through facial expressions.

It can often be a sad and frustrating time when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease and this often stems from the inability to communicate clearly. However, by following the aforementioned steps, this will hopefully go some way in trying to reach a better understanding with someone who suffer from Alzheimer’s.


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