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Ingleside at Rock Creek Blog

IRC Blog
Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Communicating with Alzheimer’s: 5 tips for having conversations when words no longer work

Communicating with each other brings meaning to our lives. It’s how we reach out and connect. But for those with Alzheimer’s, the ability to speak will eventually be lost as the disease progresses.

Yet what’s most important is to understand that we can still profoundly relate with our loved ones. Even if they struggle to talk or understand words, communication is still possible. We just need to search for different ways to engage.

Alzheimer’s effect on language

A cognitive illness such as Alzheimer’s greatly impacts a person’s ability to verbally converse with others. In the later stages, your loved one may rely only on nonverbal communication. This list from the Alzheimer’s Association includes examples of related behaviors that you may see:

  • Difficulty in finding the right words

  • Repeating familiar words over and over

  • Describing objects rather than using their names

  • Losing their train of thought more easily

  • Difficulty in organizing their words logically

  • May revert to speaking their native language if they have one

  • Speak less and rely more on gestures

Explore non-verbal ways to communicate

The best place to start is to educate yourself on the different ways you can connect with your loved one. As with most responses to Alzheimer’s behavior, it will require trial and error. And unfortunately, what worked today may bring little success tomorrow or in the weeks to come. But you’ll want to keep trying.

Here are a few suggestions to consider when verbal communication is more difficult or no longer possible:

1. Approach the person from the front

Try not to startle or surprise your loved one and always identify who you are. Be a good listener if they are trying to talk. And pay attention to their body language and facial expressions.

2. Watch your body language

Your loved one will also read what your body language communicates. If they see you tense or upset, they may become more anxious. A smile goes a long way in conveying compassion and caring.

3. Always interact on their level

When you are speaking, make sure to be at or below their eye level. Making eye contact can help them feel a little more in control and less helpless.

4. Communicate through touch

Depending on your loved one’s preferences, a light touch can reassure the person while expressing your connection. Try holding their hands, putting your arm around them or lightly resting your hand on them.

5. Try different ways to engage

Consider singing one of their favorite songs, browsing through old photo albums or exploring different smells or tastes together. All of these examples can be a form of communicating with the person.

Practical advice to set the scene

Wherever your loved one may be in trying to converse, there are practical steps you can take beforehand to increase the likelihood of successful communication. Consider these tips:

1. Choose the right time:

  • Don’t wait until they’re tired, agitated or hungry

  • Try a time during the day when they are typically feeling their best

2. Choose the best place:

  • Find a room that is quiet and has few or no distractions

  • Turn off any radio or television

  • Make sure the lighting is right and your face and expressions can clearly be seen

3. Get their attention:

  • Gain their attention before you begin speaking

  • Make eye contact and don’t look down on them

  • If appropriate, hold their hand or touch them gently

4. Have enough time:

  • Choose a time where you won’t be rushed or anxious

  • Be calm and speak gently

  • Your loved one will pick up on your own unsettledness. If you’re anxious, wait for a better time

5. Know what you want to say:

  • If there is something important you need to say, practice beforehand

  • Plan for different responses and how you’ll react. Don’t wing it

6. Speak clearly:

  • Use short, simple sentences

  • Speak a little slower

  • Pause between sentences so your loved one has time to process what you said and respond

7. Don’t ask a series of questions:

  • If your loved one cannot answer them, they will begin feeling anxious

  • If you do ask questions, use ones with yes or no answers

8. Always make conversations inclusive

  • Never talk in front of people as if they’re not there

  • Don’t speak or treat your loved one like a child

  • If others are in the room, always include your loved one in the conversation

9. Use props:

  • Point to a picture or object if your loved one is having trouble understanding what you’re saying

  • Bring in photo albums or other objects to help you communicate with each other

10. Don’t argue:

  • Don’t correct or criticize what they may be trying to say

  • If what they’re saying is untrue, let it go. Don’t argue

  • Try to find the meaning behind any of their words or actions

Don’t give up

Even if you find yourself uncomfortable or struggling to interact, don’t believe that your visits are no longer important. Your presence is significant. Sitting quietly and holding their hand is a wonderful way to communicate your love and compassion. While your loved one may not be able to express those sentiments back to you, the connection is felt.

Ingleside at Rock Creek Memory Support Assisted Living

At Rock Creek, we understand the challenges of communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s, especially when there are no longer spoken words. But we also know the importance of their engagement with the world around them.

We can help your loved one, your family and yourself find ways to express your love and caring. And we encourage you to take advantage of our educational and staff resources to find the possibilities that might work best.

Those living with a cognitive illness are trying to navigate a world that no longer makes sense. When they lose the ability to put their thoughts, desires or needs into words, it’s normal for their anxiety levels and frustration to rise.

If your loved one is beginning to need more intensive care than can be provided at home, we invite you to visit our community at Rock Creek and learn how we can support all of you.

Call (202) 905-0018 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.



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