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Tips for Effective Communication with Loved Ones with Dementia

Navigating conversations with individuals living with dementia can be challenging as family members struggle to know what to say and what not to say. It can, however, be an enriching experience with the right approach. Effective communication is vital for fostering meaningful connections and understanding their unique needs and preferences. 

Empowering yourself with knowledge about the changes your loved one is going through enables you to adapt your communication style effectively, fostering a deeper connection that positively impacts both of your lives. 

The Alzheimer’s Association has put together a comprehensive list of communications challenges that are organized to fit each stage of Alzheimer’s disease. It includes tips for family and friends to communicate more effectively during each stage. We have summarized some of the key insights and tips below.

Communicating in early stages:

During this stage, an individual can still communicate and engage in meaningful conversations. You may notice however that they repeat themselves more frequently or begin to appear overwhelmed by too many voices talking at once. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t withdraw and avoid speaking with them. Your relationship is important to them.
  • Take time to listen to them, don’t jump in and attempt to complete their thoughts for them.
  • Try to speak a bit slower, but don’t increase your volume.
  • It’s okay to laugh. Humor can lighten the mood and actually improve the flow of communication.

Communicating in middle stages:

This is typically the longest stage of Alzheimer’s which can last for many years. During this time, there may be noticeable behavioral changes, and the individual may encounter challenges in expressing themselves and forming meaningful sentences. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Try to engage the individual in a quiet place with few distractions.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.  
  • Listen intently by maintaining eye contact. That shows that you value what they are saying.
  • Give them time to respond and to organize their thoughts.
  • Try to stick to questions with “yes” or “no” answers. Instead of asking “What would you like to drink,” try “Would you like some coffee?”.
  • Avoid asking “Don’t you remember?” or correcting them. Instead seek meaning in what they are saying.

Communicating in later stages:

The late stage of Alzheimer’s can last from weeks to years. As the disease progresses the individual may rely more and more on nonverbal communication. Facial expressions and vocal sounds become important ways of communicating. Here are tips:

  • Always approach from the front and identify yourself.
  • Be sensitive to their gestures, sounds, and facial expressions.
  • Avoid talking down to them or treating them as if they aren’t present.
  • Don’t feel pressured into carrying on conversation. Your presence alone can be comforting.

Make sure to pass along these helpful tips to your family and close friends. They'll value the insights and can engage in more meaningful conversations with your loved one as a result. This will not only strengthen their connection but also inspire them to remain actively involved in your loved one's life.