When someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia, changes in their brain cause a decline in their ability to listen and respond to normal conversation. It turns out that speaking in short, direct sentences is a way to communicate that’s more comfortable for them. With less information to process, they’re more likely to understand what you’re saying and respond appropriately. I will try to explain why this technique works and share 4 real-life examples of how to communicate kindly while using fewer words.
Why do short sentences work better in dementia? Alzheimer’s and dementia affect the brain’s ability to process and retrieve information. That can make it very difficult for someone with dementia to listen, understand, and respond appropriately to normal conversation. That’s why using short, direct sentences with only one thought per sentence is recommended. It makes it easier for someone with dementia to understand what you’re saying. Thoughts that are long or complex can be overwhelming because it’s too much to process. This technique might feel strange at first because we’re used to using friendly conversation to fill the silence, let someone know what’s happening, or to show that we care. But combining fewer words with a warm and positive tone will be less frustrating for seniors with dementia and is just as kind.
Here are four real-life examples of how to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s. Each person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is different and will have a different level of cognitive impairment. Use these 4 examples as a starting point and experiment to find what works best for both your older adult and you.
Example 1: It’s time for your older adult to use the restroom
DO say: It’s time to go to the bathroom now.
DON’T say: It’s been about an hour since you last visited the bathroom so why don’t we go to the bathroom and you can give it a try. Ok? How does that sound? Do you want to go to the bathroom now?
Example 2: It’s time for your older adult to have lunch
DO say: Mmmmm, it’s time to eat spaghetti!…(pause)…Let’s go to the kitchen.
DON’T say: Are you hungry? It’s lunch time and I thought you’d enjoy one of your favorites – spaghetti. Let’s go to the kitchen so you can eat. After lunch, we’ll go outside for a walk so you can get some fresh air. How does that sound?
Example 3: You’re taking your older adult to a doctor appointment
DO say: It’s time to go out…(pause)…Here’s your jacket…(pause)…Let’s get into the car.
DON’T say: We’re going to see Dr. Lee today. She’s going to check to see how you’re doing with those new medications. Remember how we had to reschedule the appointment from last month? I’m glad she had an opening this soon. You know what? It’s a little chilly today, why don’t you put on your jacket while I get the keys and then we’ll go out to the car together.
Example 4: A family member or friend has come to visit
DO say: It’s Mike, your brother…(pause)…He’s come to say hello!
DON’T say: Oh look, you have a visitor! Do you know who that is? Mike was just here last week. Don’t you remember?
Do you notice the difference in each of these types of responses? Be direct and avoid using open ended questions. It can be too much for an older adult with dementia to process. This approach has been proven to provide better daily actions with seniors who have a cognitive impairment. If questions must be asked, use Yes or No close ended questions because it is easier for the senior to process. Again, every dementia case is different and people respond differently- sometimes there is a difference in responses from day to day. Be patient. Be empathetic. Be understanding.
Following these basic guidelines should drastically improve your communication with your senior loved one. I serve as a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) in our community and I have a passion to assist families who need help in this area. If you have questions or concerns, feel free to call Amada Senior Care at 615-933-7494 and ask for Kevin. I hope you found this information helpful and may God bless you and your family in this journey. Be well.
Kevin B. Fehr, CSA, Certified Senior Advisor President & CEO, Amada Senior Care