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Alzheimer's: Tips for effective communication
Alzheimer's gradually erodes communication skills. Know what to expect — and what you can do to promote effective communication.By Mayo Clinic staff
When you try to communicate with a loved one who has Alzheimer's disease, you may feel like you've dropped through the rabbit hole into Alice's wonderland.
Because Alzheimer's disease slowly erodes communication skills, your loved one's words and behavior may make little or no sense to you. In turn, your loved one may have just as much trouble deciphering your words. The resulting misunderstandings can fray tempers all around, making communication even more difficult. Here's help easing the frustration.
What to expect
Alzheimer's damages pathways in the brain, which makes it difficult to find the right words and to understand what others are saying. Your loved one may incorrectly substitute one word for another, or invent an entirely new word to describe a familiar object. He or she may get stuck in a groove — like a skipping record — and repeat the same word or question over and over.
A person who has Alzheimer's may also:
- Lose his or her train of thought
- Struggle to organize words logically
- Need more time to understand what you're saying
- Curse or use offensive language
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- Williams KN, et al. Elderspeak communication: Impact on dementia care. American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and other Dementias. 2009;24:11.
- Small JA, et al. Effectiveness of communication strategies used by caregivers of persons with Alzheimer's disease during activities of daily living. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 2003;46:353.
- Miller CA. Communication difficulties in hospitalized older adults with dementia: Try these techniques to make communicating with patients easier and more effective. American Journal of Nursing. 2008;108:58.
- Communicating with an Alzheimer's patient. Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation. http://www.alzinfo.org/alzheimers-treatment-facts-communicating.asp. Accessed Feb. 22, 2010.