If you are an Alzheimer’s caregiver, you may or may not be aware of the challenge of effective communication with your loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease. Each of the stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) may bring with it new challenges in effective communication.
Interacting with seniors (even those who do NOT have a debilitating disease that affects the memory), can be quite a challenge at times and may require new skills in effective communication. In general, the life span of the average adult is reaching an all-time high (above the age of 80). This means that in today’s culture there’s more of a need than ever before for younger generation to learn how to successfully communicate with seniors.
Having effective communication with seniors can demand different skills and strategies than younger people may be accustomed to. Here are some tips to help you improve communication with seniors (including those with AD).
Use patience and understanding when applying listening skills to communication with seniors. Seniors often times are slow to remember (particularly those with AD) and may have trouble recalling the specific words they want to use. It’s vital to be respectful. It’s okay to help your loved one with AD to recall a word, but refrain from butting into a conversation or trying to speak for the other person. No matter how frustrating it becomes to stay with the conversation, avoid the temptation to shut down or walk away. It’s vital that you show your loved one that what he/she is trying to convey really matters. As long as you know you put forth your best effort to listen, that’s what really matters. Your loved one will sense your intention to listen, vs. being apathetic or disinterested.
When your loved one gets frustrated and struggles to find the words he/she intends to use, it’s important to show empathy. Showing empathy can actually help you to maintain a higher level of patience and understanding. If at some point the conversation gets too difficult to deal with, take a short break and come back to the discussion at a later date. Perhaps you could suggest to go into the kitchen for a snack, or go for a walk outdoors. A change of scenery and a break from the conversation could enable you to muster up more understanding and the ability to get through the conversation and successfully understand what your loved one is trying to express.
Never assume you know exactly what your loved one is trying to say when he/she is unable to fully articulate an idea or statement. If in doubt, ask questions. Using leading words in a question could help jar his/her memory. If the conversation comes to a complete block in understanding, try getting out some old family pictures-which could help your loved one’s memory of the sequence of events and/or simply change his/her mood by providing happy memories.