Alzheimer's and Communication: 10 Ways to Have Better Conversations

By Michelle Cemental

There is a certain amount of shock that accompanies the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease — both for the patient and their family. In the last 10 years, this disease has become one of the world's most-feared illnesses. But dealing with Alzheimer's can be difficult. Here are some tips to help you have better conversations with your loved ones. 

Conversation Tips

Talking with a senior who has Alzheimer's or dementia can be difficult because you don't want to say something that will set them off or cause them to get agitated. Here are some brief tips to help you.

  1. Approach a person with Alzheimer's in a calm, peaceful manner. Try not to startle them. If you do catch them off guard, it could start the entire conversation out on the wrong foot. 

  2. Approach from the front, so they can see you clearly. This will help your senior loved one not feel startled or scared. 

  3. Always introduce yourself. Your loved one may not remember who you are, so it's always best to start with a brief introduction. 

  4. If you aren't sure what to talk about, observe people nearby, gossip, and do anything that interests your loved one. Even if a loved one can't remember who you are, you can still do activities together that your loved one may enjoy.

  5. Smile but don't look too strange. People tend to over-exaggerate with babies and seniors. You know that baby voice, right? It's wonder some seniors run off yelling and crying. Try to treat your loved one like normal. 

  6. Many elders have great hearing, so don't start by yelling. The loud noise could startle them. 

  7. Recognize if you have scared or startled them, and be willing to pull back and try again later. It is common for seniors with Alzheimer's or dementia to get startled and they will need time to settle down.

  8. Do not let yelling, pounding, or crying, or other Alzheimer's behavior bother you. Many of these behaviors are part of the disease. 

  9. Use clear, positive language to avoid any confusion. Be concise with your words. 

  10. Master redirecting the conversation to help you get out of the "million-question" game. Change the subject to more favorable topics as needed. 

Above all, know that this is a disease that is destroying the brain. Don't take anything personally. They can't help it, and neither can you. Hopefully, one day we will find a cure. Until that day comes, we have to adjust and deliver the best possible care, while giving as much tenderness as possible. 


For more tips on how to talk to a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia, check out these 5 phrases to avoid and review our Family Caregiver's Guide to Alzheimer's & Dementia. 


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Tags: Alzheimer's & Dementia