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Communicating effectively with your loved one with Alzheimer’s

Ashton Williams shares communication strategies that can help your loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Ashton Williams joins Theba Lolley for a conversation about communication strategies that can help your loved one with Alzheimer's. 

Ashton Williams volunteers with the Alzheimer's Association - Arkansas Chapter as a community educator.

“With the Alzheimer’s disease, there are different stages and through those stages they go through changes and they lose their skills to be able to communicate,” says Williams.

If you know and are ready for those changes, it helps you prepare, adjust, and improve your communication skills with your loved one.

Early Stage:

Your loved one is still able to participate in your conversations and do physical activities. The main thing in that stage is to get a plan.

Ask your loved one, “When you struggle to find your words, do you want me to fill in for you or do you want me to just wait patiently?” says Williams. “Give them to the opportunity to be in the conversations, especially conversations about them.”

Middle Stage:

The middle stage of Alzheimer's lasts the longest and it can last for years.

“In the middle stage, it is mainly important to have clear and direct communication, so eye contact, speaking slowly, and having patience for when they respond,” says Williams.

Ashton recommends asking yes or no questions or more point-blank questions in the middle stage.

Ask “Would you like tea or water?” instead of asking “What do you want to drink?” Sometimes it is hard for the words to come for them, but if they hear the words, they can answer.

Late Stage:

The late stage can last for weeks or years, and it is different for every person. Your loved one may be more nonverbal in this stage, so you can use the five senses.

“Mainly communicate ‘I love you,’ ‘I’m here for you,’ and give them comfort using the five senses,” says Williams.

Consider your loved one’s feelings behind their words because they may say something and you don’t know what it came from. It could be them trying to communicate that their cold or uncomfortable.

Remember that in all of the stages, they maintain that sense of self. Continue to treat them with respect and dignity and know that they are trying to communicate with you.

“Being patient with yourself is key,” says Theba Lolley. “It’s going to take time to communicate effectively because you’re going to want to drop right back in to how you used to communicate with them.”

Alzheimer's Association is available to talk with you about what you may be going through. The 24/7 helpline number is 1-800-272-3900 and resources are available on their website and Facebook page.

Credit: Alzheimer's Association - Arkansas Chapter