How to communicate with people with Alzheimer's

Monday, November 14, 2016

Communication is more than just talking and listening – it’s also about sending and receiving messages through attitude, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. As people with Alzheimer’s disease begin losing their ability to use words, families need new ways to connect.

Daniel Cacioppo, M.D., a board-certified neurologist with the NCH Medical Group, says it is important to be patient and supportive of those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“Alzheimer’s disease is not the patient’s fault. The disease causes patients to not only forget, but they also have personality and emotional changes that are not under their control,” Dr. Cacioppo says. “When communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s, it is important to let the person know you are listening and trying to understand.”

Dr. Cacioppo also offers a few more suggestions:

  • Avoid criticizing or correcting. Don't tell the person what he or she is saying is incorrect. Instead, listen and try to find the meaning in what is being said. Repeat what was said if it helps to clarify the thought.
  • Avoid arguing. If the person says something you don't agree with, let it be. Arguing often heightens the level of agitation for the person with dementia.
  • Offer a guess. If the person uses the wrong word or cannot find a word, try guessing the right one. If you understand what the person means, you may not need to give the correct word. Be careful not to cause unnecessary frustration.

Limiting distractions also helps those with Alzheimer’s to focus on their thoughts, Dr. Cacioppo says. “Caregivers should try to keep the patient’s lives organized and stay in a routine, which helps them get through the day,” he says.

The Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Support Group meets the fourth Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Arlington Heights Village Hall.

  • Daniel Cacioppo


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