Alzheimer's Caregiving: Communication Skills

September 2, 2017

Communication is hard for people with Alzheimer’s disease because they have trouble remembering things. They may struggle to find words or forget what they want to say. You may feel impatient and wish they could just say what they want, but they can’t.

The person with Alzheimer’s may have problems with:

Finding the right word or losing his or her train of thought when speaking
Understanding what words mean
Paying attention during long conversations
Remembering the steps in common activities, such as cooking a meal, paying bills, or getting dressed
Blocking out background noises from the radio, TV, or conversations
Frustration if communication isn’t working
Being very sensitive to touch and to the tone and loudness of voices

Help Make Communication Easier

The first step is to understand that the disease causes changes in communication skills. The second step is to try some tips that may make communication easier:

Make eye contact and call the person by name.
Be aware of your tone, how loud your voice is, how you look at the person, and your body language.
Encourage a two-way conversation for as long as possible.
Use other methods besides speaking, such as gentle touching.
Try distracting the person if communication creates problems.

To encourage the person to communicate with you:

Show a warm, loving, matter-of-fact manner.
Hold the person’s hand while you talk.
Be open to the person’s concerns, even if he or she is hard to understand.
Let him or her make some decisions and stay involved.
Be patient with angry outbursts. Remember, it’s the illness “talking.”

To speak effectively with a person who has Alzheimer’s:

Offer simple, step-by-step instructions.
Repeat instructions and allow more time for a response. Try not to interrupt.
Don’t talk about the person as if he or she isn’t there.
Don’t talk to the person using “baby talk” or a “baby voice.”

Information provided by National Institute on Aging