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10 Tips for Talking to a Loved One with Alzheimer's and Dementia

Head of person with Alzheimer's

To make the most of your life with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's disease and dementia, it's important you know how to talk with them.

As their brain function declines, their ability to remember, understand, and communicate changes, as does your ability, and sometimes your interest, in talking with them.

If you live with and care for a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer's with its associated dementia symptoms, you know that over time, the death of their brain cells and deterioration of their brain function changes their personality and behavior.

It seems as though the person with whom you are living becomes a different person.

Tips for Talking with Love

Here are tips for enhancing your life and loving interaction with your loved one. The need to follow these tips may vary depending on the progression of the disease.

  • Take time to listen to what they are saying, not just the words, but the meaning of what they are trying to say. They may be having trouble expressing what they are thinking. Focus on the feelings they are expressing.

  • Be patient and encouraging. You may have to offer a word or two to keep the conversation going if they lose their train of thought. Once they begin speaking, try not to interrupt.

  • Enter their world. Over time, their brain will create a world you may not understand, a world full of past experiences and anxieties. It's important you support and appreciate their thinking in the "now" moment.

  • Understand they may get upset and angry out of frustration, fear, or anxiety. Don't correct them, argue, or show your frustration, as hard as it may be. Sometimes it's good to take a deep breath, let things go, and start over.

  • Include them in conversations, especially about them. Don't talk about them in the third person. For example, don't talk to a neighbor about him or her with "he said" or "she said" language in front of them.

  • When speaking, approach them from the front and maintain eye contact with them. One of the symptoms of Alzheimer's in the later stages is diminished peripheral vision.

  • Speak slowly and clearly since their hearing may be declining. Even if you need to speak louder, do so in a relaxed soothing way. Abrupt speech can irritate them, causing them to react negatively.

  • Talk using short and familiar words and phrases. Avoid asking complicated questions that require thoughtful answers. Ask one question at a time, giving them enough time to process an answer and respond.

  • Address them by their name, especially by the name they like to be called. Be aware of the possibility they may not know your name, or even recognize who you are, as hurtful and confusing as this might be for you.

  • In the later stages of the disease, non-verbal body language may be one of the only ways they can communicate. Try to learn their non-verbal language. Your use of non-verbal communication will also be helpful. Your actions matter.

Tragic and Encouraging Truths

The simple and tragic truths about Alzheimer's disease are it causes brain cells to die, and it's a progressive disease. The equally simple but encouraging truths about the disease are it's not the result of normal aging, and research regarding medications and lifestyle factors is progressing.

Finally, caring for someone with Alzheimer's, or any illness that is associated with dementia symptoms, can be a difficult and stressful job. However, it can also be a source of joy and comfort. Be as positive and cheerful as you can be, given the circumstances. Even in the later stages of dementia, they will recognize and react to your emotions, very likely reciprocating and being uplifted by your joy.

Know the Lord has placed you exactly where you need to be to enhance your loved one's quality of life as much as possible.

Additional reading:

For additional information

Listen to God's Words

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, (Colossians 1:11)

Listen to the Words of Others

"You can't converse with Alzheimer's sufferers in the way you do with others; the dialogue tends to go round in circles." Kevin Whatley

"Never let the brain idle. 'An idle mind is the devil's workshop.' And the devil's name is Alzheimer's."  George Carlin 

"The thing about Alzheimer's is that it's it's sort of like all these little, small deaths along the way, before they actually physically die." Lucinda Williams

Think About It

  • Have there been times when you spoke to your loved one and he or she seemed to be in another world, speaking in a detailed way of past experiences? Describe the occasion, your reaction, and how you could have acted differently.

  • Have there been occasions when you spoke to your loved one with Alzheimer's and he or she forgot your name and insisted you were someone else? Recall the occasion and your reaction. How did you address this in subsequent conversations?

  • Have you been frustrated and puzzled talking to your loved one when he or she acts and talks as if they experienced a complete personality change? Has it been a positive or negative change? Describe your reactions and how you addressed them.

  • What do you think about the idea the Lord has placed you at your loved one's side to enhance his or her quality of life as much as possible? Search God's Word to find words that will give you comfort and strength.

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