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King Farm Blog

IKF Blog
Posted: Thursday, November 5, 2020

Conversation starters when visiting a loved one with Alzheimer’s

If you have a friend or loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, one challenge you’ll face as the disease progresses is finding ways to communicate.

Patience and compassion will be needed as you try to interact with those struggling to find the words they’re searching for or when they forget what they wanted to say.

While the awkwardness may tempt you to rush a conversation along or to fill in any pauses, it’s important that you encourage the person to continue to engage with others.

Communication challenges with Alzheimer’s

The illness interferes with the ability to process information, express thoughts and emotions. Caregivers, family members and friends should adjust their responses and reactions to meet the needs of those coping with a cognitive illness. By understanding what challenges may be ahead, you can attempt to be prepared.

Here are a few of the more common signs you’ll likely see:

  • Difficulty finding the right words

  • Continually repeating a familiar word

  • Describing familiar objects instead of calling them by name

  • No longer remembering or understanding the meaning of a word

  • Losing the train of thought more easily

  • Not being able to follow along or keep attention during a long conversation

  • Difficulty organizing words logically

  • Reverting to speaking a native language, forgetting a second language they had learned

  • Speaking less often

  • Relying on gestures more than speaking

  • Becoming frustrated when unable to have a conversation

Recommendations to help ease conversations

We rely on communication with others to not only express our needs but also our feelings and emotions. When that ability is lost, it’s even more important to find ways to connect.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips when having a conversation:

1. Choose a place with minimal distractions

2. Speak slowly and clearly

3. Make and maintain eye contact

4. Give the person time to think about and form their response

5. Be patient and reassuring

6. Ask one question at a time

Communication changes in the early stages

As Alzheimer’s continues its progression, the ability to communicate will also deteriorate. It’s important not to make any assumptions about a person’s skills but to remain aware of where the individual is and be prepared to adjust your responses.

The Alzheimer’s Association includes these suggestions for each stage of the illness:

In the earlier stages after a diagnosis, your loved one will likely be able to have meaningful conversations, although you’ll begin to see the struggle to find the right word or repeating stories. If you’re a friend or family member, ask what type of communication is most comfortable for the individual, such as in-person, email or phone calls.

Although it can be uncomfortable to have a conversation with someone struggling to use words, don’t exclude them by only speaking to others in the room. And even if you feel awkward, don’t stop visits. Sitting in silence will still convey to the person that you care.

Communication in the middle stages

As your loved one moves into the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, communicating will become more difficult. Make sure to allow time so the person can think about what they want to say. Be reassuring and don’t criticize but look instead for what the person is trying to express.

Don’t argue, even if you disagree with what is being said. Consider offering visual cues or demonstrate a task to encourage participation. Sometimes written notes can be helpful when words seem to be confusing.

When communication is non-verbal

In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, your loved one may rely only on non-verbal communication. But this doesn’t mean you can’t still connect.

Asking them to point or gesture to help you understand what they might be trying to express can be effective. Try to discover the feelings behind any words or sounds they may make.

Non-verbal communication can include touch, sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Look for ways you can connect using these alternative options.

Treating the person with dignity and respect is always the right choice to make. And even if you don’t know what to say or do, remember that your presence is what’s most important.

A few additional tips:

Regardless of where your loved one or friend may be along the journey of Alzheimer’s, these general suggestions can help:

1. Always call the person by name and tell them who you are

2. Be aware of your tone, volume and body language

3. Hold the person’s hands while you talk, if appropriate

4. Try not to interrupt them or rush their response

5. Don’t criticize or admonish them for not remembering something

6. If your loved one doesn’t understand a word or phrase, try different words

7. Try to distract the person if they are getting frustrated

8. Be patient with angry outbursts, which are caused by the illness, not the person

9. If you become frustrated, take a timeout

Ingleside at King Farm Memory Support Assisted Living

Communication is how we relate to each other. But with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, the ability to speak and convey feelings, needs and emotions is greatly impacted. However, that doesn’t mean that we can no longer connect.

Remembering that it is not the person but the disease that is at the cause of this disability can help family and friends feel less frustrated. Finding more creative ways to have conversations can be quite effective, even when words are no longer possible.

At Ingleside at King Farm, we’re here to help. Our staff is trained in the best dementia care practices and with our person-centered care, we take the time to understand your loved one and what ways might be most successful in encouraging communication.

Our around-the-clock individualized care of our residents, nutritious meals and music, art, movement, pet and recreational therapies will help your loved one feel as empowered and engaged as possible.

Call (240) 455-4582 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.


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