January 2018 is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a condition that affects more than 550,000 Canadians today. The risk for dementia doubles every year after 65 and one in three Canadians over 80 is living with dementia, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
Alzheimer’s disease affects a person’s language abilities and how they communicate. By learning how dementia changes the way people express themselves and understand what’s being communicated to them, you can adopt effective strategies to maintain and improve communication with the person at each stage of the disease.
Here are tips to help you communicate with a family member or friend living with Alzheimer’s disease:
1. Reduce distractions before you speak. Lower the volume of the TV or radio, or move from a noisy environment to a quieter place. Make eye contact and use the person’s name when addressing them.
2. Speak warmly and calmly. The person will respond to a positive, soothing tone, even if they don’t understand all the words. Use short, simple sentences and speak slowly, if the person is struggling to comprehend.
3. Use gestures as well as words. If it’s time to go for a walk, point to the door or bring the person’s coat to show what you mean. Consider alternate ways of expression through art, music or other activities to enhance and maintain communication, says the Alzheimer Society.
4. Take time to listen. Give reminders and prompts to encourage the person to talk. Allow time for the person to think, find the right word, answer questions or write down their thoughts, says University of Waterloo.
5. Tune into the person’s feelings. When communicating with someone with dementia, think about what they may be feeling. If the person seems confused, anxious or sad, respond to their feelings and empathize with them. Holding a hand, or smiling when you talk can often convey more than words.
6. Connect rather than correct. Let false statements or mistakes go. While it may be tempting to correct a family member, focus on finding ways to connect. Humour can bring you closer, and laughing together over mistakes or misunderstandings can help.
Chartwell Retirement Residences seeks to support older adults living with dementia and their families, through their memory care and memory living programs. A selection of Chartwell retirement communities are equipped with dedicated and secure memory care floors and neighbourhoods, where residents and their spouses can comfortably live, and trained, caring staff can help them lead meaningful and fulfilling lives.