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Improving communication with people with Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease can cause difficulty with understanding what's being said, and finding the right words when speaking. Here are some tips for better communication when talking to a person with Alzheimer's disease

Get their attention

Gain the listener's attention before you begin talking. Approach the person from the front, identify yourself, and call him or her by name.

Maintain eye contact

Visual communication is very important. Facial expressions and body language add vital information to communication. For example, you are able to "see" a person's anger, frustration, excitement or lack of comprehension by watching the expression on his or her face.

Be attentive

Show that you are listening and trying to understand what is being said. Use a gentle and relaxed tone of voice, as well as friendly facial expressions.

Hands away

When talking, try to keep your hands away from your face. Also, avoid mumbling or talking with food in your mouth. If you smoke, don't talk with a cigarette between your lips.

Speak naturally

Speak distinctly, but don't shout. Speak at a normal rate, not too fast or too slow. Use pauses to give the person time to process what you're saying. Use short, simple, and familiar words.

Keep it simple

Give one-step directions. Ask only one question at a time. Identify people and things by name, avoiding pronouns.

Be positive

Instead of saying, "Don't do that," say, "Why not try this?"

Re-phrase rather than repeat

If the listener has difficulty understanding what you're saying, find a different way of saying it. If he or she didn't understand the words the first time, it is unlikely he or she will understand them a second time.

Adapt to your listener

Try to understand the words and gestures your loved one is using to communicate. Adapt to his or her way of communicating; don't force the person with Alzheimer’s disease to try to understand your way of communicating.

Reduce background noise

Try to reduce background noise, such as from the TV or radio, when speaking. In addition to making it harder to hear, the TV or radio can compete with you for the listener's attention.

Be patient

Encourage the person to continue to express his or her thoughts, even if he or she is having difficulty. Be careful not to interrupt. Avoid criticising, correcting, and arguing.

Non-verbal communication

The presence, touch, gestures, and attention of carers can help to communicate acceptance, and reassurance to a person with Alzheimer's disease.

Respect and dignity

In all cases, treat the person affected with dignity and respect. Don't speak down to the person or speak to others as if he or she is a child, or isn't present.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on May 18, 2016

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