How to “Be” When You Are with Someone with Alzheimer’s

At those times when you encounter someone with Alzheimer’s is critical to create an environment and communication that best matches what that individual needs.  It is impossible to read the mind of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s and different people with the disease respond to situations differently.  That being said, there are a few “best practices” you can adopt.

Reduce Distractions.  Try to arrange a meeting situation where there are minimal distractions so the person with Alzheimer’s can focus all of his or her mental energy on the conversation.

Physical Demonstration of Engagement.  Your body language will be “heard” sometimes more clearly than your words.  By focusing on your own facial expressions and nodding your head as they speak, you will make them feel heard.  Respectfully ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation moving.

Do Not Fix.  Allow the conversation to flow.  Let the errors and illusions ride and see where they lead.  Do not try to correct the Alzheimer’s patient when they are wrong.  It will create unnecessary stress – and they probably will not agree anyway.  They may simply withdraw.

Speak Calmly.  Use a relaxed tone that is warm and calm.  Do not exhibit heightened emotions or be condescending.  These behaviors do not further the communication and will reduce the engagement of the Alzheimer’s sufferer.

Use Proper Nouns.  Pronouns can be confusing.  Always use the name of the person to whom ou are speaking and in referring to others use their proper names rather than pronouns – even if it makes the conversation sound odd to your own ears.  It will reduce confusion.

Be “Present”.  Your body language and eye contact will help the person with whom you are communicating realize that you are a familiar person and one that can be trusted even if they do not remember exactly who you are.  Maintaining an accommodating attitude can help the exchange with the Alzheimer’s patient feel at ease and relaxed and much happier with the visit.

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