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Tips for Communicating with Loved Ones with Alzheimer's

CenterLight Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Carol Hartmann

This Teamcare Blog post was guest-written by Carol Hartmann, MBA, NCCAP - ADC, who is a Regional Day Health Center Manager at CenterLight Health System.

Every 65 seconds someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and currently, 5.8 million people in the U.S. suffer from this progressive, and ultimately fatal brain disease.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease creates the loss of memory, reason, judgement and language to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Alzheimer’s Disease can devastate the lives of older adults and their loved ones. Unfortunately, it currently has no cure.

For nearly 25 years, I’ve made working with Alzheimer’s patients my passion and my life’s work. I have helped to create a wide range of sensory, cognitive, creative and intellectual programs to improve the lives of individuals impacted by Alzheimer’s.   

I know first-hand that if you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it can be an especially difficult challenge. You’re facing a progressive disease, while witnessing your loved one – as you knew them – fade away. Alzheimer’s impacts all aspects of daily functioning – including communications skills.

This post is the first in a two-part series that explores verbal and non-verbal communication strategies to help support those living with Alzheimer’s Disease. Here, we’ll start with the basics.


Keep in mind, A person with Alzheimer’s may:

  • Struggle to understand what you say - and struggle to respond to you.

  • Search to find the correct word, repeat the same word, or get lost in their thought process.

  • State how an object is used, rather than stating the name of an object.

  • Stop speaking all together and use hand gestures to communicate.

Infographic on how to better communicate with people with Alzheimer's


To help you communicate and connect with your loved one, I’ve put together the following guide.

strategies for Alzheimer’s-sensitive communication:

  • Approach them from the front; don’t sneak up on the individual.

  • Move slowly. Settle down next to them, one side.

  • Get low. Sit down. Don’t tower over them.

  • Offer them your hand.

  • Use the person’s preferred name or nickname.

  • Wait for a response. Don’t just continue speaking. Wait for an acknowledgement before you continue talking or doing anything.

As you continue your conversation:

  • Identify yourself and speak clearly.

  • Minimize distractions when communicating.

  • Smile!

  • Be patient and supportive.

  • Get the person’s attention before speaking.

  • Move slowly and gently to avoid startling.

  • Establish and maintain eye contact at their level.

  • Don’t argue – even if you are frustrated and know you are correct.

Your tone matters:

  • Your tone should always sound calm and friendly.

  • A lower tone is better – higher tones are more likely to cause agitation.

  • Take it easy. Remind yourself to speak more slowly than you typically would. It’s easy to forget and return to your normal pace of speech.


While these tips are written with Alzheimer’s in mind, they can be applicable to other forms of dementia. In the next part of this series, we’ll explore more advanced tips on communicating with loved ones with Alzheimer’s. Check back soon!

CenterLight Teamcare is committed to providing accurate health-related information to help individuals live well, stay healthy and make well-informed healthcare decisions. Information in this material is strictly educational. We recommend that users consult with their doctor regarding their care. For more information and resources about services for those with Alzheimer’s, e-mail info@centerlight.org. If you would like to learn more about CenterLight Teamcare, please call: 1-877-212-8877 (TTY 711), 8AM - 8PM, Monday - Friday. Representatives or message service also available on weekends.

 
 

H3329_2019_BLOGAlzeimersTips Approved 05032019
Pending CMS and DOH approval
Last updated April 25, 2019

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