Thursday, May 15, 2014

How to Talk to Someone with Alzheimers or Dementia

After completing my post on the "UCI 90+ Study at Laguna Woods Village," I thought this would be a good time to follow up with a little more information about dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.

My mother has dementia and it has become quite advanced.  She can only remember most things for a very short time.  As I have come to understand, speaking to someone with dementia or Alzheimers can be extremely frustrating.   My mother lives with my sister, so I only call a couple of times a month to talk with her.  I know she probably does not remember that I called, but I like to touch base with her, anyway.  I've done some research on how to talk to someone with dementia, so that our phone conversations are less frustrating. 

Typically, dementia patients may repeat themselves endlessly and they sometimes become anxious, hostile, angry, abusive or exhibit other negative emotions and behaviors. In addition, they may not remember who you are, the last time they spoke with other family members, what decisions they have agreed to in the past, or where they have stored things.  In my case, my mother seems to know who I am, but she repeats the same stories every time I call.  I have found it helpful to keep our conversations short and not ask too many questions, because they seem to frustrate her.

What are some other ways to communicate with a dementia patient, while reducing their anxiety and keeping them calm?  The Alzheimer's Association provided me with a handout at a recent Senior Summit that I attended.  I found their suggestions so helpful, that I have condensed them below.

Do's and Don'ts for Talking to the Memory Impaired:


Be kind
Speak in short, simple sentences
Be patient, cheerful and forgiving
Allow plenty of time for a response
Repeat your statements exactly the same way
Agree with them, even it if is just to reassure them
Leave the room, rather than have a confrontation with them.
Accept blame for problems, even if you aren't actually to blame for the problem


Don't test their memory loss.
Don't confront or blame them.
Don't try to reason with them.
Don't take forgetfulness personally. 
Don't remind them they forget things.
Don't argue, correct or contradict them.
Don't ask open-ended questions; they are too complex.
Don't forget that they are frightened because of their memory loss.

I plan to keep this list handy when I talk with my mother on the phone because I have noticed that she gets very confused when I ask her about recent events ... such as what she and Dad did during the past week.  I realize now that a question like that is too open-ended.  She does better with yes and no questions or simple statements.  In addition, when she does remember something, she repeats it over and over again.  For example, my mom and dad recently had dinner with my dad's sister.  When I called the next day, my mother told me several times about their dinner together.  I just patiently listened.  I was delighted that she had such a pleasant memory of the dinner.

Of course, if you are living with someone who has dementia, there may be times when they become hostile, angry or irritable, and you may not know what to do.  My brother-in-law has told me that this sometimes happens with my mother, which is hard on him.  If this happens in your family, there is a hotline that you can call for advice ... and I highly recommend that you use it before you become frustrated and upset, too. 

Need Immediate Help?  Call the Alzheimer's Hotline:  1-800-272-3900

You may also want to read additional information about Alzheimer's and dementia, possible treatments, research in the field, and the ways in which the Alzheimer's Association is able to provide assistance to caregivers.  To find out more, use the website below:

Source for Information about Communication with the Memory Impaired:

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  1. My grandmother had alzheimers for several years. It was extremely difficult on all of us. Bless her heart, she deserved so much better in those final years. She was the kindest person in the world, but she was truly tortured by the dementia.

    Thank you for your correct and well considered advice. I am certain it will be beneficial to many as they struggle though the battle of living with a loved one who has Alzheimers.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your personal story about your grandmother and her dementia. I know how painful it is to watch someone experience mental decline.


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