It is common for Alzheimer's patients to confuse or forget words as the disease progresses, or to begin speaking less clearly in general.
Understanding the needs of an Alzheimer's patient may become challenging for caregivers and loved ones, and likewise the patient may have difficulty interpreting the communication style of others.
Practicing appropriate verbal and nonverbal communication techniques which take into consideration a patient's unique circumstances can help break the communication barrier and put your loved one at ease.
The manner in which you verbally address an Alzheimer's patient can affect the way you as well as your conversation are received.
At the start of a conversation, identify yourself by name and use your loved one's name as well. This straightforward clarity can be comforting to Alzheimer's patients, as many experience difficulty identifying familiar people as their disease progresses.
Use a quiet, relaxing tone of voice when speaking to your loved one, and make sure you speak slowly and enunciate clearly. When asking questions, stick to one question at a time, and use the same wording if the patient requests that you repeat it. Avoid references that may be ambiguous to the patient, such as pronouns (he, she) or metaphors that the patient may interpret as literal.
Appropriate nonverbal communication is just as important as your verbal communication approach, if not more.
Approaching an Alzheimer's patient in a way that is nonthreatening is one basic way to improve communication between the two of you. Simply approaching the patient from the front rather than from behind removes uncertainty the patient may have regarding you and the general environment.
Whenever possible, maintain calm, peaceful surroundings with minimal background noise and distractions that may constitute disorder or chaos.
When speaking to your loved one, demonstrate sincerity by conversing face to face, maintaining eye contact and using facial expressions to reflect the sentiment behind your conversation. Smiling, hugging and touching is excellent nonverbal communication that is gentle and likely to be well-received by the patient.
While you are around the patient, take care not to startle him or her. Move about slowly, clearly explaining what you are doing. Try to understand what your loved one is conveying to you through words and expressions.
Caregivers and loved ones of Alzheimer's patients sometimes feel overwhelmed by the drastic personality and mood changes that are affecting the patient. Effectively dealing with these changes involves being intuitive and adjusting your own communication style to accommodate the changing needs of your loved one.
Remember, when speaking to an Alzheimer's patient, be composed, clear and concise.
John Trevey is the C.E.O. of Uncommon Care, an assisted living Austin Texas home specializing in Alzheimer's care. He is the manager of both The Barton House and the Breckinridge. For more information, please visit uncommoncare.com