10 Effective Communication Strategies for Alzheimer’s Caregiving

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Effective Communication Tips for Dementia Caregiving

Communication is crucial to building and maintaining relationships because it is how we express needs, concerns, and relate to each other. Communication is more than words – it is a combination of attitude, tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Ultimately, a person with Alzheimer’s will have trouble communicating in nearly every aspect. For caregivers, it’s important to understand what communications changes can occur throughout the disease, how to respond to these changes, and how to effectively communicate as dementia progresses.

Changes in Communication as Dementia Progresses

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia with symptoms of the disease worsening over time. People with Alzheimer’s experience changes in communication that can make conversation and simple tasks frustrating for both the caregiver and the person with dementia.

Communication issues for people with Alzheimer’s can include:

  • Repeating familiar words
  • Describing objects rather than naming them
  • Speaking less
  • Relying on hand motions and gestures more than words
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Easily losing a train of thought
  • Disorganized speech

In the later stages of dementia, a person with Alzheimer’s often relies solely on nonverbal communication, using vocal sounds or facial expressions.

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10 Tips for Effective Communication in Each Stage of Dementia

Effectively communicating with your loved one will be different in each stage of the disease. Because Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia affect each person differently, assumptions cannot be made about the communication abilities of each individual with the disease.

Generally speaking, these tips can help caregivers, friends, and family communicate more effectively with loved ones with dementia as the disease progresses.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Laugh 

Humor can lighten the mood, reduce stress, and even bring caregiver and patient closer.

2. Understand That Not All Communication Needs to Be Verbal

Emails, phone calls, and body language are all good ways to show someone you care without requiring an immediate communication response.

3. Don’t Pull Away

 Your friendship is important to your loved one who is going through a tough time. Being honest about your concerns and feelings can help both of you cope with a difficult diagnosis.

4. Avoid Arguing, Criticizing, or Correcting 

Over time, a person with dementia will live in their own reality. Listen and try to understand their main points, but don’t engage in an argument or correct a mistake in speech.

5. Avoid Open-Ended Questions 

Asking simple “yes” or “no” questions will help them make decisions easier and faster, eliminating confusion and disorientation.

6. Speak Slowly and Clearly, Avoiding Multi-Step Instructions

Go through tasks one item at a time, careful not to overwhelm or confuse your loved one.

7. Maintain Eye Contact

 It’s a simple and easy way to show someone you care about them and are focused on what they are saying.

8. Have One-On-One Conversations in Quiet Places with Minimal Distractions

This will help focus the conversation and be sure your loved one has the opportunity to formulate and ask questions.

9. Approach the Person with Dementia from the Front and Introduce Yourself 

Over time, people with dementia will forget faces and names. Being upfront with who you will help put them at ease.Their vision also changes and they lose their peripheral vision over time. It’s important that you always approach them from the front since they wouldn’t be able to see you from the side or behind them. 

10. Know That You Play an Important Role in Your Loved One’s Well-Being

Even after your name and face are forgotten, your time, presence, and friendship are important to someone in the late stages of dementia.

What communication strategies have helped you in caring for someone with dementia? Share your tips in the comments below.


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About the author

Alissa has been working in marketing and the senior living industry for over 8 years. With a B.S. in advertising from the University of Illinois, Alissa has worked all over the world as a freelance communications strategist and writer. Published in Forbes, Senior Finance Advisor, Alzheimers.net and on other leading senior care blogs, she leverages her working knowledge of the senior care industry with leading research and best practices to create engaging content benefitting seniors and their caregivers. In her free time, Alissa loves to travel, read, cook, and spend time with her family.