Healthy Living

Tips for Interacting and Communicating with Alzheimer's Patients

Tips for Interacting and Communicating with Alzheimer's Patients

Alzheimer's affects many across the United States, both patients and caregivers. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that over 5 million Americans have the disease and it's the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Dr. Gayatri Devi was interviewed by "CBS This Morning" and she said that patients who have Alzheimer's should not have to feel patronized. Devi is a director and neurologist at the New York Memory and Healthy Aging Services, and she agreed to the interview in order to share some of the obstacles that caregivers face when communicating with patients who have Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's is not just an individual's illness, but rather an illness that affects the entire family and the community. This disease affects everyone around the patient, including family and friends. Many people think that you should treat a person with Alzheimer's like a child, but that way of thinking doesn't and shouldn't apply when talking to any adult.

While it may be frustrating at times, it's important for caregivers to keep in mind a few things when speaking to an Alzheimer's patient, whether you are a friend, daughter, son or grandchild. Here are a few tips for caregivers, relatives and friends when interacting and communicating with Alzheimer's patients and doctors.

Let family and friends know what the person can still understand and do

It is important to give visitors a heads up for what to expect from the patient. If the patient can still hold a conversation and respond appropriately, you don’t want guests treating them like a child. If, however, the patient is having trouble keeping up with conversations, you may want to ask visitors to talk soothingly or use words that are simple to understand.

Give visitors ideas for how to start conversations

What are some of the patient's favorite topics? If they love animals, then visitors may want to engage a conversation about animals. If they have a favorite object, then ask visitors to comment about that object. Let visitors know if there are any topics that may upset the patient as well and ask them to avoid those topics.

Ask visitors to only come when a patient is at his or her best

If the patient has certain times of the day in which they are the most present and in the best mood, then ask visitors to only come at that time. Some people with Alzheimer’s are at their best in the early afternoon, just after lunch, but may become agitated later in the evening when they are tired. But, everyone is different, and as a caregiver, it's important to understand when a patient is at their best and when they are at their worst.

Maximize independence by paying attention to the patient's strengths

What are their strengths? Maybe they have a great sense of humor and love jokes or maybe they are very kind and gentle. Whatever their strengths are, try to maximize them and avoid harping on their weaknesses.

Never ask the patient to do things that may be dangerous

While the person may seem to be somewhat independent in some areas, there may still be some activities that are too dangerous. For example, they may be able to fix their own sandwich for lunch, but asking them to cook on the stove may be too much.

Ask the patient directly what they need help with 

Instead of assuming that they need help with everything, try simply asking them if they need help. Remember that some days they may need more help than others, but other days they may be able to do stuff on their own. For example, one day they may be able to put their shoes on by themselves, but other days they may need more help.