June 20, 2016

Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia: Tips for Effective Communication

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. Communication can be one of the greatest barriers for those whose loved ones are living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Thelma Branson, a registered nurse and director of long-term care at Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro, shares these tips for communicating with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Approach matters.

Approach a person slowly from the front, then move to the side, and if necessary, sit or crouch to get to their level. Smile and connect with the person physically by taking their hand in a “soul shake” handshake and call them by name. This approach is less likely to startle the person while showing respect and allowing connection.

Family photos

Looking at pictures together is a great way to interact and connect.

Find ways to connect.

Find meaningful ways to connect by bringing up the type of work the person did, a favorite hobby, sport or family photos. Even smiling and greeting the person and then exchanging pleasantries can put him or her at ease. Touch, music and looking at pictures together are great ways to interact nonverbally with someone who has dementia.

Be clear.

Always tell your loved one what you are going to do before you do it. This takes more time, but will make what you’re trying to accomplish much easier.

Assess their behavior.

For people who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, behavior is communication. Crying, yelling and resisting care could signal pain, infection or even a PTSD reaction. Wandering or increased anxiousness at a particular time of day may represent anything from the need to use the bathroom to looking for their children to come home from school or the belief they need to be making dinner. Knowing their past routines can help you understand why they’re behaving a particular way. Even though a person with dementia may not be able to tell you they’re hurting, they may acknowledge pain if asked.

Enlist help.

As a family member caring for someone with dementia, remember to be patient and gentle—with yourself. Don’t take rude remarks or aggressive behavior personally. Ask for help from family. If your loved one lives in a facility, share their likes and dislikes, career, background and hobbies with those providing care.

Finally, accept your loved one for who they are now, and enjoy the good days or moments as they come.

Thelma Branson, RN, BSN, CHPN
Director of Long-Term Care