Memory Concerns

Caregiving & Alzheimer’s: Communication Breakdown

One of the most difficult aspects of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is dealing with the gradual breakdown in communication. Miscommunications are frustrating — for both the person struggling with the disease and the caregiver looking after a person with Alzheimer’s. As those frustrations build, it’s easy for strife and hurt feelings to form between family members, care providers, and friends. That’s why it’s imperative to learn how to communicate with dementia patients effectively and manage the frustrations that inevitably arise.

Communicating with Dementia

Alzheimer’s requires patience and understanding from caregivers because the disease changes the entire brain. While you know communication for and with people with dementia can become difficult, it’s impossible to predict the specific ways these communication problems will occur, or what words and phrases might become confused first.

In the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s, communication may only be slightly affected. Your loved one might struggle to find a word they’re looking for, or begin speaking less often. But gradually, this difficulty with expressing thoughts and feelings will worsen, as well as a growing difficulty understanding others. It’s essential to remember that this can be just as frustrating for the speaker as it is for the listener. Anything besides patience will only make the situation worse.

Effects on Your Family

Illnesses are a common cause of family conflict, and emotionally taxing illnesses like Alzheimer’s are no exception. Those difficulties are only compounded by the logistical difficulties of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and by how family members often have different capabilities to cope in response to seeing a loved one battle against dementia.

While you probably can’t change the way your family members cope, there are some things you can do to keep a tough situation from becoming worse.  Communication between family members is critical because if you don’t ask for help, your family may not know you need it. While it can be difficult, it’s important to empathize with the different ways your family might be affected by the news of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and to recognize there are many ways to assist with providing care.

Communicating with Alzheimer’s Patients

The best Alzheimer’s communication techniques all have one thing in common: they practice being patient and supportive.

When communication breaks down:

  • Try to show that you’re doing your best to understand
  • Let them know that things are okay
  • Encourage them to continue to explain and don’t interrupt.

When listening:

  • Try to find the intended meaning behind the words by focusing on the emotion of a statement rather than the specific facts.
  • If all else fails, try to offer a guess as to what they meant, but tread carefully as to not create frustration.

While it can be hard, try to avoid the urge to correct their verbal mistakes, and never be drawn into an argument. Argumentation may only agitate your loved one, and is almost never constructive. Many people find it’s useful to make use of unspoken communication, like pointing or hand gestures.  It’s also a good idea to reduce environmental distractions, because a quieter place can help a person better focus their thoughts.

Communication issues can be frustrating, but tenacity, understanding, and empathy go a long ways towards overcoming them. With the right approach and the right assistance, even the most difficult parts of providing care for a loved one with dementia can be a little easier on everyone.

Have you cared for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia? Have you noticed differences in communication styles among people with the disease? What did you find to be helpful ways to communicate? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.