Alzheimer’s Disease: 8 Tips For Communication Everyone Should Know

by Rebecca Endicott
Becca is a writer and aspirational dog owner living in NYC.

Alzheimer’s is a scary and devastating disease.

It’s not a disease that takes people instantly, like a heart attack or a stroke. Instead, it takes people very slowly, over a matter of years.

The signs can be subtle and tough to spot, and if you’re watching a family member go through the illness, you already know that there are good days and bad days.

Alzheimer’s affects the memory in a lot of different ways, meddling with your sense of direction, your recall of people and places, and even your beliefs.

But it’s important for family members of folks with Alzheimer’s to know that the person you know is still there, at least during the early stages of the disease: they just might need a little bit more coaxing than they once did.

What’s more is that they’re often fighting really hard to retain their sense of self. So whenever you make time to have a real conversation, they appreciate it — even if they aren’t up to participating fully.

Scroll through below for a few tips on the best way to have a quiet chat with a person with Alzheimer’s.

#1: Don’t Talk Down

Shaking hands with Alzheimer's patient
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Being treated like a child is the worst feeling for someone with Alzheimer’s.

They’re adults with rich, profound personal histories, and they don’t want anyone to erase that part of them, even if they don’t always remember it.

Make sure you treat them equally and don’t condescend, no matter how frustrated you might feel.

#2: Talk With Your Hands

Talking with hands
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Everybody has a different brain, which is why each person reacts differently to Alzheimer’s and to other forms of dementia.

Some people may have trouble connecting words with their meanings, but they might still get gestures.

In other words, double your chances of getting your point across by talking with your hands to help them grasp the mood and tone of the chat.

#3: Stay Consistent

Spraying perfume
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Chances are that people you know with Alzheimer’s are working really hard to remember you.

Make their task easier by staying consistent and creating patterns for them to follow.

Wearing the same outfit every time you visit and tapping into scent memories by wearing the same perfume can help people keep track of who is who.

#4: Try Not To Criticize

Don't criticize
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Your loved ones with Alzheimer’s are going to mess up from time to time, and it may get worse as the disease progresses.

They might blow money on an ill-advised purchase, or wander off from where they’re supposed to be, and those kinds of actions are going to be frustrating and scary for caregivers and family.

Still, if possible try to avoid criticizing or arguing back: there’s a good chance that your logic won’t get through to them, but your anger will.

#5: Gently Fill In The Blanks

Having trouble thinking
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

If you’re talking about making breakfast, and you can tell that they’re searching for the word “spatula,” try gently supplying the word.

Some folks might get defensive and retort that they knew it already, but most of the time, people will appreciate you filling in the blank.

Whenever possible, try to say it as if they already made it clear — “oh sure, I have trouble with my spatula, too” — to help make them feel like it’s a mutual dialogue.

#6: Avoid Distractions

Talking alone
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

People with Alzheimer’s are often at their best for a conversation when you can find a quiet, mellow place to chat.

If you’re in a place that’s crowded or noisy, like a recreation room or cafe, they might get distracted and lose the thread of the conversation more easily.

Instead, try finding a quiet couch where you can chat one-on-one: this has the added bonus of making the conversation feel special and personal.

#7: Use Your Name And Theirs

Introducing someone
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

When you greet your loved one, make sure by starting with whatever name you usually call them: “Hi, Mom” or “How are you doing, Aunt Margaret?”

From there, make sure you identify yourself early on, too, and keep reinforcing your name and theirs throughout the conversation.

This helps to confirm who you are and what your relationship is, and it helps to keep your loved one from getting you confused with other friends and family.

#8: Speak Clearly And Simply

Using short words
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Save your 50 cent words for the crossword, and make sure you express concepts as simply and clearly as possible.

In addition to using simple words, try to avoid idioms and metaphors. For example, instead of saying, “I hit the hay at midnight,” try “I went to bed late.”

This just makes it easier for them to maintain the thread of the conversation and follow along!

Did we miss any major tips for talking to someone with Alzheimer’s?

Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to SHARE this important list for anyone dealing with this heartbreaking disease.