The Caring Corner - Blog

Top 10 Tips for Communicating through Alzheimer’s

By Emma Dickison

Alzheimer's Expert Jo HueyThis is part of a series of guest blogs written by Jo Huey, the Alzheimer’s Advocate®, founder of the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Institute.

If you or a loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s, you know firsthand that communicating can be extremely challenging and wearing. Similar to caring for a child, it requires patience and understanding on the part of the caregiver.

The difference is that a child is still growing and learning new things, while someone with Alzheimer’s is progressively regressing.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll delve into the “Ten Absolutes” of communicating through Alzheimer’s to help improve these relationships.

Tip: #1: Never Argue, Instead Agree

Jo Huey's Ten Absolutes of Alzheimer's Care

Especially in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, caregivers often report their loved ones become very argumentative. Many describe a situation in which their loved one “says things that are inaccurate, then becomes very defensive/angry when someone tries to correct or clarify the inaccuracy.”

In these types of situations, it’s important to remember the person with Alzheimer’s is experiencing a progressive cognitive decline beginning with short-term memory loss. In their minds, what they’re saying is what they know to be true.

Below are two common scenarios in which the “never argue, instead agree” tool makes for more positive interactions:

  1. The person with Alzheimer’s is looking for someone who has died: Depending on one’s stage of Alzheimer’s, they could be 95 years old and searching for their “Momma” who passed away decades ago. Instead of telling them the person is dead, tell them, “I haven’t seen them today.” It’s the truth, and you avoid telling them the person for whom they are searching is dead. Remember, in their mind (due to memory loss) this might be the first time they have heard this devastating news.
  2. The person with Alzheimer’s says, “I want to go home.” It is believed they are truly looking for a better place in time, and “home” describes such a place in one’s heart. Instead of saying, “This is your home,” try saying, “So do I.” This provides an opportunity for both of you to approach something together rather than being in a state of disagreement.

In our next post, we’ll explore the Second Absolute: Never reason, instead divert.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of H.H. Franchising Systems, Inc.