Visiting a Person with Alzheimer’s: How to Communicate
Don’t let uncertainty prevent you from visiting a friend or family member with cognitive impairment.
Communication and socialization are important aspects of everyday life, even for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. They may have good days and bad, but there is much for them to gain from positive, supportive visits with friends and family.
10 tips for visiting a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia
1. Introduce yourself. No matter your relationship with the person, don’t assume that they will recognize you. If they seem to be having difficulty identifying who you are, offer a simple introduction and state why you are there. For example, “Hi, it’s John, I’ve come to visit you today”.
2. Limit distractions. Find a quiet, peaceful place to talk. Avoiding distractions will help the person focus on their thoughts and ease communication.
3. Nonverbal communication. You can say a lot without ever saying a word. Facial expressions, gestures and pointing all help keep the conversation going while smiling and hand holding can offer silent comfort.
4. Listen patiently. Allow the person to talk openly about their feelings without hurrying them along or rushing to respond yourself. Try not to interrupt, they may have a hard time getting back on track.
5. Allow pauses. There are likely to be pauses in between responses. This is okay. Let the person digest what you have said and formulate their response in their own time.
6. Tone of voice. Speak warmly, calmly and clearly to keep the interaction positive and friendly. It is important the person doesn’t feel as though they are being spoken down to.
7. Use names. Instead of referring to people as “he”, “she” or “they” use their name. Names are important and will help clearly identify who you are talking about.
8. Let things slide. It is okay if what the person is saying isn’t accurate. Instead, look to find the meaning in what they are trying to communicate. Further, if the person says something you don’t agree with, avoid arguing as that can heighten their level of confusion.
9. Focus on feelings. In addition to the above point, feelings are more important than facts. Let tone of voice and gestures provide clues to the emotions behind their words.
10. Create a guestbook. Put together a guestbook in which visitors can write their name and a bit about their visit. This will help the person keep track of their day.
Research has found that socializing and strong relationships can slow down the progression of cognitive impairments including Alzheimer’s disease. For your own wellbeing, and that of friends and family members, stay connected.
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By Christine Tompa