By Gail J. Shaw, Care Coordinator –

“Don’t underestimate me. I know more than I say, think more than I speak and notice more than you realize.” I saw this quote of wisdom on Pinterest and it immediately reminded me of my clients, who are challenged every day as they live life with Alzheimer’s. To me, it speaks volumes on how individuals living with a dementia or Alzheimer’s go about their day, day after day.

A family caregiver faces many challenges while caring for their loved one who has Alzheimer’s. One of those challenges deals with communication. The family becomes frustrated trying to figure out what Grandma is trying to get across to them. Grandma gets upset at trying to get her thoughts out or to be understood. Words just don’t come easily or even come at all. Frustration, stress, and hurt feelings are experienced daily for those who are slowly losing their ability to communicate.

In the beginning, for a person with Alzheimer’s, there may be little to no problems with communication. There could be the occasional misuse of calling something by the wrong word or forgetting the correct word use for an item. One may forget a person’s name or call them by a different name. You and others may not notice any problems with their communication.

As Alzheimer’s progresses through the region of the brain that affects memory and thinking and planning, you will notice the individual having more and more trouble expressing themselves. They will also have problems organizing their thoughts. This will be a time of great frustration for the individual with Alzheimer’s and those caring for them.

Towards the very end, the one with Alzheimer’s will not be able to verbally communicate due to the brain being so compromised. This will be a tough time but you will still be able to communicate with each other even if it seems to be one-sided.

Every day we all use a nonverbal system of communication. We wave a hand to get someone’s attention. We laugh at other’s jokes. We may frown and roll our eyes to imply we are not happy with something. Yes, we can communicate a lot with our body and facial expressions. So remember while  communicating smile, laugh, hold hands and look into their eyes to show love and acceptance to the one living with Alzheimer’s.

Here are some suggestions from the book The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life, to improve verbal communication with your loved one during the mild to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s.

  • Make sure he does hear you.
  • Lower the tone (pitch) of your voice.
  • Eliminate distracting noises or activities.
  • Use short words and short, simple sentences.
  • Ask only one simple question at a time.
  • Ask the person to do one task at a time, not several.
  • Speak slowly, and wait for the person to respond.

St. John’s Community Care provides training to our employees on the topic of understanding memory loss which includes communication. Our support groups also help family caregivers to have a better understanding of how to communicate with their loved one living with Alzheimer’s.

If you need help in understanding or caring for your loved one, call us and we will meet with you to see what program or services we offer that may be beneficial for the two of you. Remember that the most important thing to communicate is your love.