How to Talk with Someone Who Has Alzheimer's or Memory Loss~ Communication & Short Term Memory Loss

by CindyMurdoch

Communicating with someone who has Alzheimer's can sometimes be very difficult; however, by adding a few tools to your communication toolbox, it can be made much easier.

Communicating with someone who has Alzheimer's can be a challenge, but remembering that logic does not triumph can make it easier. In fact, trying to be logical will not win the "argument"; and, in fact, many times it will only make it more difficult.

Being too Logical Can Actually Be Very Illogical!?!

Remember, It's the First Time

When communicating with someone who has Alzheimer's disease (AD), the first thing you need to do is to take a deep breath and relax. People suffering from AD may not always understand what is being said, but they do understand body language.

Sometimes by being illogical, you become logical.
Sometimes by being illogical, you bec...

If you are stressed and anxious, it is likely that they too will be stressed and anxious. If you appear to be angry or upset, there is a very good chance they will think you are angry or upset with them. Depending on their personality, this will either cause them to reciprocate with the same feelings, or become depressed and/or fearful. So it is best that you appear to be calm and relaxed.

One of the best pieces of advice to help put so many things into perspective is this: When the person with Alzheimer's tells you something or asks you something, you have to act like it is the very first time you are hearing this information, because in their mind it is the very first time they are sharing it. Because of their short term memory loss, they do not realize that they have previously shared this exact same information, often multiple times.

No matter how many times you attempt to tell them that they asked the same question 5 minutes ago, and 10 minutes ago, and 11 minutes ago, and 12 minutes ago..., they will not see it that way. Our frustration will become their frustration, and then some. And it's an uphill battle from there. It's much easier for us to make a slight shift (pretending it is the first time we are hearing the information), than to be in constant turmoil over things that in the long run will not even matter.

Communication is very Important for All Concerned
Communication is very Important for A...

It's Illogical to be Logical!

If we become frustrated and angry because we don't understand why a person with Alzheimer's just doesn't seem to get it - after all, it's so logical to us; then in actuality it's us who've missed the point. In dealing with someone who has Alzheimer's, it is illogical to be logical.

In situations where we become frustrated and angry, they will not understand our anger, but they will understand our displeasure. And this in turn will cause them frustration in a world that is already making less and less sense, which then has the potential of making the situation even worse for both of you. If we continue to be frustrated with them, then they will sense this and soon shut down.

It's Easier to Withdraw

For the person with Alzheimer's, it's easier to withdraw than trying to please someone who cannot seem to be pleased. How many times do we have to hear that we are doing something wrong before we finally quit trying, especially when we are performing to the best of our ability? Why should we think it would be any different for them?

And it is good to remember, people with Alzheimer's are performing to the best of their ability. They are not doing things and saying things just to make us mad. They did not forget on purpose. They are doing the very best that they can with the resources (brain power) they still have available to them. They cannot change, so we must.

If human nature has gotten the better of us, and it will, then there will be times that we do become frustrated with the situation or the person suffering from Alzheimer's. We may find that we are in a situation that has begun to deteriorate or escalate, and go places that we really didn't want to go. Don't continue to try to reason with them...this would be like knocking your head against the wall. It really will get you no where. Take a deep breath, and say a quick prayer. Even remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes if you can safely do so.

Sometimes Being Illogical Keeps Everyone Happy
Sometimes Being Illogical Keeps Every...

Distraction is a Tool

Add it to Your Tool Box

After collecting your composure, come back to the present situation and change the subject to something that they find enjoyable. Distract them with an activity that they find pleasant. Change the atmosphere. Distraction is a tool that you will find to be very useful. Keep it handy. That is the logical course of action. Doing what is right for the person with Alzheimer's will ultimately be what is right for all concerned. Logical or not!


Cindy Murdoch is the founder and owner of On the Wings of Angels. Her agency provides non-medical in home care for adults, and many of her clients struggle with the issues of Alzheimer's and dementia.


©Copyright 2012 Cindy Murdoch

All Rights Reserved

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Updated: 05/04/2012, CindyMurdoch
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Comments: "How to Talk to Someone Who Has Alzheimer's ~ Alzheimer's Communication"

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Lilysnape on 06/16/2013

A brilliant article

Jeannieinabottle on 11/13/2012

A wonderful article! You give such great advice on this subject. Thank you for sharing!

Regi_B on 06/12/2012

Thank you for this info. Alzheimer's runs in my family.

Tolovaj on 05/30/2012

Very interesting article on very important subject. As I understand Alzheimer is on the rise... I had a chance to communicate with people with dementia and I think there are some very basic rules for this sort of communication, just like with Alzheimer's. If I borrow a sentence from your article: "They can't change, so you have to."

CindyMurdoch on 04/22/2012

Anamika - Essentially, you do not disagree with what they think is true, or appears to be true to them. That is their reality and they are not easily swayed, but are very easily agitated.

Anamika on 04/22/2012

Awesome Article! I have never communicated with such a person so far. Now I know how to if I have to communicate with someone having Alzheimer's disease.

CindyMurdoch on 04/21/2012

Dustytoes - I am so sorry. That must have been really hard. Your mother was diagnosed at a young age and although not as early some, I can't help but wonder if she didn't have early on-set Alzheimer's. The time period of 10 years after diagnosis until her death is another thing that makes me wonder. Early on-set Alzheimer's seems to progress through the stages of the disease much quicker.
Your case brings another point home - each person suffering with Alzheimer's has their own unique journey to make as the disease attacks the brain.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

dustytoes on 04/21/2012

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers when she was in her 60's and there was no history of it in the family so it was surprising to me. She "lived" for ten years but one of the first abilities she lost was being able to talk. First she repeated herself a lot, then she began to say and write things that made no sense, and then she just stopped talking altogether within the first few years of her diagnosis. My heart goes out to you Katie.

CindyMurdoch on 04/19/2012

lakeerieartists - patience is very critical when dealing with someone who has Alzheimer's, or you will indeed get very frustrated. I a glad that were able to find a way of communicating with her that worked. That always makes it easier.

CindyMurdoch on 04/19/2012

Moonbeam973 - It really can be quite a challenge, and their behavior can be very inconsistent, making it a new ballgame every day.

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