When cognitive function, memory, and thinking are impacted by Alzheimer’s disease or a related condition, a person often experiences difficulties with communication. They may have trouble forming thoughts, finding the right words, and comprehending what others are saying. Here are some factors to consider:
Your loved one may still have some communication abilities. Someone unable to keep up with a conversation may still be able to recall and sing their favorite songs. Encourage these unique talents.
Short-term memory and long-term memory may be affected differently. Your loved one may be able to recall things that happened many decades ago, but don’t remember the last time you visited them, or remember young relatives. Memory loss can cause individuals to forget where they are or even who is with them.
It may appear that people with Alzheimer’s are hallucinating or having delusions. Speak with your loved one’s healthcare provider about the best way to approach this. You may have an impulse to “correct” your loved one’s perceptions, but it is usually best focus on the feelings they are experiencing. For example, your loved one might think they are at the airport. Rather than repeating, “No, Dad, we’re at your doctor’s office,” instead say, “We’ve been waiting a while, haven’t we?”
The Role of Body Language
In advanced stages of dementia, verbal skills can be severely limited. That’s when body language is an important part of communication. Watch your loved one’s face and body for reactions. Are they happy and calm, or sad and agitated?
Your body language is important, too. Without saying anything, you can project your compassion, and show a sense of comfort and security. For example …
- Sit in an open posture, with neither arms nor legs crossed to appear welcoming.
- Lean forward to show that you are listening and interested.
- Be mindful of your own gestures and facial expressions to show interest and involvement.
- Begin each conversation by calling the person by name.
- Speak slowly, clearly, and at a volume appropriate for their hearing ability. Avoid overstimulation.
- Choose open-ended questions that allow a range of appropriate responses—ones that don’t have to be answered “yes” or “no” or with a specific fact.
- Sometimes it may be better for you to just talk, gauging your loved one’s reactions through visual clues.
Lastly, don’t expect a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia to follow the usual patterns of conversation. Your loved one may not always remember who you are or even what you spoke about moments before. But the effort you spend can provide important moments of comfort. Love and a commitment to caring are the most important messages you can convey.