How to communicate effectively with someone who has Alzheimerโ€™s disease

Alzheimerโ€™s diseases progresses with time and has no cure. Effective communication can help patients live a meaningful life.

Age is one of the biggest risk factors for Alzheimerโ€™s disease and the percentage of people suffering from this disease is increasing dramatically as the years go by. According to US-based Alzheimerโ€™s Association, the percentage of people aged between 65 to 74 years who have Alzheimerโ€™s is five percent. This grows to 13.1 percent between the ages 75 of 84, and 33.3 percent at the age of 85 years and above. Alzheimer patients face memory loss, problem solving, language difficulties, along with feeling disoriented; and need extra care at home. The role of the caregiver in an Alzheimerโ€™s patient is paramount, and there is an integral need for effective communication. So, learning some tips for communicating with an Alzheimerโ€™s disease patient may be a good idea.

Neurologist Dr Balaji and psychiatrist Dr Shivangini Singh, tell Health Shots about effective communication strategies when it comes to taking care of Alzheimerโ€™s patients.

What is Alzheimerโ€™s disease?

When someone has Alzheimerโ€™s disease, it means that there usually is a problem in the brain that makes it hard for people to remember things, think clearly and act normally. โ€œThis progressive brain disorder interferes with a personโ€™s memory, thinking, and behaviour. It gradually worsens over time, often beginning with mild memory loss and eventually leading to severe impairment in daily functioning,โ€ explains Dr Balaji.

Understand more about Alzheimerโ€™s disease here.

Showing family pictures to Alzheimerโ€™s patients help them remember better. Image courtesy: Pexels

Daily life challenges faced by Alzheimerโ€™s patients

Here are some common symptoms of Alzheimerโ€™s disease:

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1. Memory loss

Patients face trouble remembering new information. They tend to forget recent events or conversations, this happens in the early stages.

2. Trouble solving problems

Patients finding it hard to figure things out or make plans.

3. Confusion about time or place

The patients are not sure about what day it is or where they are.

4. Changes in mood or personality

The patients suddenly feeling upset or anxious, mood swings, loss of interest in activities, wanderings.

5. Problems with everyday tasks

Alzheimerโ€™s patients struggle with simple tasks, like cooking or getting dressed. This happens usually in the later stages.

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Also Read: Alzheimerโ€™s disease: Signs your elders may be suffering from it

Alzheimerโ€™s disease not only affects the memory but also the thinking capacity, communication skills, self-care abilities and the personโ€™s behaviour overtime. โ€œIt is a gradual process with no cure available till date. Hence, lifestyle and behavioural changes are the key for best response and improvement. Effective communication can make a major difference in improving the quality of life of the patient,โ€ says Dr Singh.

How to communicate with Alzheimerโ€™s patients?

1. Change your approach

It is very important for the caregiver to make eye contact all the time while talking to an Alzheimerโ€™s patient. Also, remember to address the individual by his or her name. โ€œIt is essential to pay attention to your body language, tone of voice, and how you look at the other person, while communicating with an Alzheimerโ€™s patient,โ€ says Dr Singh.

2. Interaction

Good interaction is the key to effective communication with an Alzheimerโ€™s patient. Encourage dialogue that is reciprocal for as long as you can. โ€œAlso, remember to use nonverbal cues, such light touch, in addition to speech,โ€ says Dr Singh.

3. Be empathetic

Act in a kind, caring, and straightforward manner. As you converse with an Alzheimerโ€™s patient, hold their hand. Even if the person is facing difficulties in grasping, it is very important for the caregiver to be receptive to their worries. โ€œAllow the patient to make whatever decisions that he can make. If an Alzheimerโ€™s patient becomes angry, the caregiver must remember to be patient. Always remember that it is the sickness that is โ€œtalkingโ€ during such altercations,โ€ says Dr Singh.

4. Talk effectively

While interacting with an Alzheimerโ€™s patient, be direct and specific in your conversation. Make you that you are providing clear and detailed directions. โ€œMake sure to give the directions again, if you have to, and give yourself more time to hear a response. Aim to avoid interjecting or speaking to them in a baby voice or doing baby talk,โ€ says Dr Singh.

5. Use resources

It is very important to help Alzheimerโ€™s patients feel connected. โ€œFeel free to show pictures to patients, or other familiar cues to improve discussion,โ€ says Dr Singh. This also helps them stimulate their brain, it improves memory and prolongs cognitive ability.

Two old women talking and laughing.
Having good conversations with Alzheimer patients is very important. Image courtesy: Pexels

How does the disease progress?

Alzheimerโ€™s disease progresses through distinct stages, each characterised by specific symptoms and levels of impairment. โ€œIn the early stage, individuals may experience mild memory lapses and subtle changes in cognitive function. As the disease advances to the middle stage, memory loss becomes more pronounced, along with increased confusion and difficulty with tasks like planning and organizing,โ€ explains Dr Balaji. In the late stage, severe cognitive decline occurs, leading to profound memory loss such as forgetting names of family members & everyday objects, loss of verbal communication, and dependence on others for daily care.

How long can a person live with Alzheimerโ€™s?

People can live with Alzheimerโ€™s for different amounts of time. โ€œOn average, itโ€™s around 4 to 8 years after theyโ€™re diagnosed. But some people live longer, and some donโ€™t live as long. It depends on many things like age and overall health,โ€ says Dr Balaji. Quality of care, access to medical treatment, and support from caregivers also play significant roles in determining life expectancy.

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