Caring for Someone With Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease

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If you're the caregiver for a parent or loved one who has Alzheimer's disease or dementia, you probably know that communication is one of the biggest hurdles of day-to-day life for them. Speech and vocabulary recall are taken for granted in youth, but their importance quickly becomes apparent once the ability to clearly communicate is lost.

You can help your aging loved one by making some minor tweaks in the way you interact with them.

First, try to remember to stay positive. It can be easy to get frustrated when a misunderstanding occurs—especially given that you are likely juggling a career and other responsibilities while taking on the role of a caregiver. But by maintaining patience and positivity, you can help communication move as smoothly as possible. This entails using a gentle tone of voice, using body language that conveys openness and receptiveness, avoiding any negative facial expressions and using touch when comfortable and appropriate.

When attempting to have a conversation with a person with cognitive decline, try to minimize distractions in the room. Turn off the television and close curtains or shut the door to gain their full attention. Make eye contact and address them by name, and reintroduce yourself if needed, both by name and relation. Using nonverbal cues like gestures or touch may also be helpful, since verbal recall is often the main barrier to clear communication.

Keeping this in mind, try to make your sentences as simplistic as possible. Do not use extraneous words, use a low tone of voice and speak slowly. When explaining how to do something, breaking the task down into steps may help them carry out the activity or at least understand what is happening.

Know that at times, a person with dementia will say things that don't make sense. Don't try to correct them with logic or facts. Rather, try to determine if what they are saying is a reflection of something they are feeling and focus on correcting or addressing that.
It's likely that at some point your aging loved one will get frustrated or even angered by their inability to get an idea across. Responding calmly and patiently may help diffuse the situation. You may also want to simply acknowledge their feelings, and then suggest moving on to another activity.