20 Ways to Improve Communication with a Loved One with Alzheimer’s
With the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or any form of dementia, communication skills gradually decline. As this progression takes place, caregivers need to expand their capabilities to meet their parent, partner, or friend exactly where they are in an appropriate and loving manner. A person with Alzheimer’s experiences good days and bad, just like the rest of us. The difference is that some of the bad days are because they know that they can’t reach for the thought they want, like not remembering what a toothbrush is for. As a caregiver, you learn to navigate all types of days, especially as dementia advances. As always, knowledge is power. By understanding changes that may arise, you will better prepare yourself for meeting the challenge of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
The Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Medically there are three broad categories that an Alzheimer’s patient can experience. The early, middle, and late stages. To gain some perspective, let’s take a brief look into what each stage might look like.
The Early Stage
The early stage of Alzheimer’s disease is medically referred to as ‘mild AD’. This is the stage where the individual is able to participate in meaningful conversation and social activities. However, they may repeat stories, have difficulty finding the correct word, or easily feel overwhelmed by excessive stimulation. Studies show that developing and maintaining a social life slows the progression of Alzheimer’s, so at this stage, it is important to encourage as much social interaction as possible.
The Middle Stage
There will be days when your loved one is upset, agitated or quietly depressed and withdrawn. As you can imagine, not being able to express a thought, or reach an idea or memory to share, is frustrating. You don’t understand why you can’t get to it and at the same time you know that something has evaporated, left you forever, and you are at a loss. Compound this with not being able to express to your caregiver that all of this is going on while they are trying to get you to do something or go somewhere. It is one of many situations that can lead to agitated outbursts or deep silences that can be draining and difficult to handle. In general, when you are with your loved one, be present. Maintaining an environment that is calm and focused can prevent anxiety from building. In this stage, it is critical to create a space where your loved is at ease and feels safe.
The Late Stage
When an individual reaches this stage, dementia symptoms become severe. One loses the ability to respond to their immediate environment, have a simple conversation, and ultimately control their movement. As the Alzheimer’s Association describes it, “They may still say words or phrases, but communicating pain becomes difficult. As memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen, significant personality changes may take place and individuals need extensive help with daily activities.”
It is during this challenging stage that your loved one will require constant assistance with personal care and all activities. Their motor functions will decline, causing their ability to walk, stand, sit, or even swallow to become impaired. At this stage, the individual becomes vulnerable to infections, most commonly pneumonia.
Basic Practices for Communication in all Stages of Alzheimer’s
Loving and caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is one of the most challenging circumstances anyone can encounter. Know that you are charting new waters while doing the best you can. Forgive often, get support, arrange your life so that you get breaks, and share with others what you are dealing with and learning along the way. Laugh whenever you can. Taking great care of yourself will be one of the best things you can do to meet all the challenges of caring for your loved one with an open heart and a powerful presence. Here are 20 more valuable communication tips for you to keep in your pocket to access anytime.