Adults with memory changes due to Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia may have a hard time communicating because they may not remember words or what they want to say. They may not be able to pay attention or block out background noises from the television, radio or other conversations. They may also have difficulty with English if they learned it as a second language.

Here are some communication tips for caregivers from the National Institute on Aging:

  • Many seniors are aware of their memory changes. Help them by taking time to listen. They may want to talk to you about the problems they are experiencing.

  • Although communication can be frustrating for both the caregiver and the person with memory loss, be as sensitive as you can. Give the person in your care time to find the right words to express their thoughts and feelings. Don't just correct them every time they forget something or say something strange.

  • Pay attention to nonverbal communication, including your own. As people lose the ability to talk clearly, they may express thoughts and feelings through facial expressions and gestures. For example, they might grasp at their underwear to let you know they need to use the bathroom. Use other ways of communicating besides speaking, such as gentle touching or hand-holding.

  • Call the person by name and maintain eye contact when you talk to them. Show a warm but matter-of-fact manner. Speak slowly and clearly, without raising your voice.

  • Offer simple, step-by-step instructions. Repeat if necessary, allowing more time for the person to respond.

  • Don't talk about the older person as if they were not there or as if they were children. Don't finish their sentences or speak for them.

  • Be direct, specific and positive. Say, "Let's try this way," instead of pointing out mistakes. Say, "Please do this," instead of "Don't do this." Ask questions that require a yes or no answer- for example, "Are you hungry?" instead of, "How do you feel?". Limit the number of choices. Say, "would you like fish or chicken today?" instead of asking what they want for lunch.

  • Avoid saying, "Don't you remember?" or "I told you." Let the person in your care make some decisions and stay involved. And if they become angry, don't take it personally. When you feel frustrated, take a timeout for yourself. Sources: Alzheimer's and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center, National Institute on Aging