Natalia listens to music with her daughter Sonia

Communicating With Someone Who Has Alzheimer's

Join us in thanking family caregivers this November by sharing resources and vital information with them. Your Turn To Care is happy to welcome guest columnists, Estee Bienstock RN, Chaplain Jim Johnston, and Gerontologist Mary Winners to share their personal and professional insights and advice for caregivers and their families.

Alzheimer's is a debilitating disease that forces family to rethink how they interact and relate to their family member afflicted with the disease. Symptoms develop slowly, progressively getting worse. As the disease continues to advance through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; and unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregiver.

Communicating with someone with Alzheimer's requires patience, understanding and a sincere desire to connect with the individual. Below are helpful tips and strategies for verbal and non-verbal communication that can assist in making an individual with Alzheimer's feel safe and engaged.

Tips For Communicating With Someone Who Has Alzheimer's.

  1. Approach the person from the front.

  2. Move slowly and gently and try to avoid startling the person.

  3. Establish and maintain eye contact at face-to-face level.

  4. Identify yourself by name.

  5. Utilize non- verbal communication including nods, smile, pats, and gestures.

  6. Call the person with Alzheimer's by name.

  7. Speak in low-pitched, soft and gentle voice.

  8. Give brief, one-step directions. Keep tasks simple and manageable.

  9. Ask questions requiring yes or no answers.

  10. Praise success and emphasize the positive.

  11. Use as few words as possible and be direct.

  12. Be patient and reassuring.

  13. Do not rush the Alzheimer's person. Allow plenty of time for response. If there is none, repeat the questions or statement again, exactly as it was phrased the first time. If there is still no answer, reword the request.

  14. Use familiar words and cues.

  15. Minimize noise and distractions.

  16. If the Alzheimer's person becomes agitated, remain calm and reassuring. Do not force the person to talk and do not become impatient. Take a break and try it again in a few minutes.

  17. Maintain a comfortable distance between you and the other person.

  18. Demonstrate actions to get the person started. For example comb your hair or brush your teeth.

  19. Be repetitious and consistent.

  20. Be honest.

  21. Respond to and validate the person's feelings. Sometimes the word a person uses does not convey what he/she is really feeling.

  22. Talk to the Alzheimer's patient as an adult, not a child. Do not talk down.

  23. Include the Alzheimer's patient in conversations. Don't talk around them as if they were not there.

  24. Make sure the patient is both safe and comfortable to allow clear communication.

  25. Alzheimer's patients will pick up on your frustration, anger, or tenseness; try to minimize your own stress.

Estee Bienstock Estee Bienstock RN is the Executive Director of ALLPOINT Home Health. She grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from the LAC/USC Nursing School in 1976. After years of working in area hospitals, Estee recognized a need for better post-acute in-home care. She then founded Enhanced Health Care in 1989 and quickly set the standard for quality home care. In 2001, Estee formed ALLPOINT Home Health, with the goal of maintaining her unrivaled level of ethics and high standards of customer care. Her philosophy is that each client should be cared for the way she would care for her own family member. Since its inception, ALLPOINT Home Health has been leading the way in helping seniors and disabled adults safely retain their independence in the home.

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