How to Talk to Someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

How to Talk to Someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia


The National Institute of Health estimates that over 5 million people in the U.S are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. In a different study by the National Institute of Aging, Alzheimer’s has been confirmed to be the sixth most fatal illness in America with women being more susceptible to the disease compared to their male counterparts. This condition usually begins to manifest when patients are past their sixties.


Dementia versus Alzheimer’s

The names ‘dementia’ and ‘Alzheimer’s’ may sound familiar because they have been with us for a century, yet the two terms are often confused to date. Alzheimer’s can be defined as an illness that affects the brain causing a loss of memory and cognitive function. Initially, when this disease attacks a patient, they lose track of current happenings yet they can remember things that took place some years back. A patient can survive this illness for an estimated nine-year period.

Dementia, on the other hand, is described as a disease with a group of signs that adversely affects a patient’s memory sparing only their consciousness. With an affected brain and cognitive function and ultimately a transformed life, conversation with Dementia patients is never easy. It is estimated that 46 million people were suffering from dementia worldwide. Of this, 10% of patients acquired the disease at a certain stage in their lifespan. 3% of elderly people between 65-74 years are reported to have dementia.


Stages of Dementia

According to Reisberg scale which is used to analyze the progress and phases of dementia, there are seven stages of dementia focusing on reduced cognitive patterns.

  • Phase1: No cognitive decline. Patients operate normally with no signs of mental illness.
  • Phase 2: Very mild cognitive decline. A patient starts showing normal forgetfulness.
  • Phase 3: Mild cognitive decline. The patient starts forgetting frequently.
  • Phase 4: Moderate cognitive decline. Lack of concentration. Here doctors are usually able to notice major cognitive challenges.
  • Phase 5: Moderately severe cognitive decline. Serious memory loss and the inability to finalize tasks.
  • Phase 6: Severe cognitive decline (mid-dementia). Patients need extensive help due to lack of bladder and stool control.
  • Phase 7: Very severe cognitive decline (late dementia). Totally immobile. A stage of serious barriers to communication with dementia patients due to loss of speech.


Signs causes and symptoms of dementia

Signs causes and symptoms of dementia

Dementia can be caused by a variety of possible illnesses. The major signs and symptoms of this disease include:

  1. Resistance to change. Fear in elderly patients with dementia may cause them to cling to their comfort zone. Unwillingness to get involved in new things is also a common syndrome.
  2. Repetition. Elderly dementia patients have a tendency to keep repeating the same chores over and over again. They may also ask the caregiver the same questions that have already been answered. Secondly, dementia and phone use have been linked in cases where seniors call everyone else when they fail to reach their loved one on phone.
  3. No sense of direction. Old people lose track of places that they usually visit. It also becomes increasingly difficult for them to follow instructions about a specific direction.
  4. Confusion. A lapse in memory and decision making causes seniors to be confused. They misplace objects, forget their schedule, and forget about newly made acquaintances.
  5. Disinterest. The elderly parent may suddenly lose interest in activities that they once enjoyed. They may not want to socialize with friends and relatives anymore.
  6. Mood swings. Communicating with elderly dementia patients is a complicated task due to factors like depression and mood swing.
    Failure to use the right words – Seniors are constantly incapable of getting the right words during a conversation. This incapacitates their competency when it comes to self-expression


Signs causes and symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Signs causes and symptoms of Alzheimer’s

The most common causes of dementia among the elderly are genes, their physique, and other surrounding risk factors. As their mental status with time continues to deteriorate, it helps to watch out for the following signs and symptoms.

Behavioral symptoms

  • Withdrawal and decreased interest in socialization
  • Ignorance of dental and physical hygiene
  • Misplacement of objects
  • Loss of interest in hobbies that were once enjoyed
  • Difficulty in completing daily chores


Physical symptoms

  • Difficulty in consuming food. This may involve hiding food in pockets and other complications when it comes to swallowing
  • Lack of the ability to eat without supervision and assistance
  • Interrupted sleeping patterns. This may be followed by too much or less sleeping hours
  • An unkempt look


Cognitive symptoms

  • Difficulty in speech
  • Inability to remember recent happenings
  • Lack of trust in caregivers
  • Losing track of familiar areas
  • Using wrong words in speeches
  • Communication breakdown


Psychological symptoms

  • Excessive anger
  • Fighting others
  • Depression
  • Fluctuating moods
  • Unhappiness
  • Perception of unreal objects and visions
  • Mental degeneration
  • False judgment


Some differences between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Alzheimer’s and dementia may have similar syndromes but they are different. The following are major differences between these two conditions.

  • Dementia has many symptoms that manifest together. It cannot be tied down to a particular disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is one of the major causes of dementia because it results in the degeneration of the brain.
  • Alzheimer’s is a specific kind of dementia caused by extreme levels of proteins in and out of the brain cells.
  • When elderly people are diagnosed with dementia, it is founded on their signs without the knowledge of what is strengthening the symptoms.
  • In Alzheimer’s, the real trigger of the symptom can be identified.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is currently incurable.
  • Some types of dementia especially the ones attributed to poor nutrition can be reversed.


How does dementia affect communication?

How does dementia affect communication

Dementia starts with a slow degeneration of the older person’s thoughts and mental capacity. This ends up affecting many areas of their lives including communication. Older patients become increasingly forgetful, a major fact that affects their ability to relay information successfully because they cannot connect to their day to day activities.

Communicating with dementia patients has thus proved to be a difficult task for any caregiver. This is because older patients with dementia will normally neither follow instructions nor understand sentences that are slightly complex. These people also use wrong words in their phrases making communication harder. Alzheimer’s disease will affect a patient’s communication ability in different ways including:

  • Decreasing their reasoning capacity.
  • Impairing auditory and written comprehension.
  • Alzheimer’s elderly patients also tend to view issues from a very different perspective making it almost impossible for the caregiver to pass information to them.


Challenges associated with communicating with dementia patients

Challenges associated with communicating with dementia patients

We have already established that it is quite challenging communicating with people suffering from dementia. Some challenges that caregivers experience during communication include:

Lack of connection

Communication challenges with dementia patients begin when they lose touch with current affairs. At this point, adult children are usually confused about how to talk to someone who has dementia. This puts them in a state where they can no longer connect with the elderly patient and this becomes a big setback when it comes to passing information.


Inability to interpret the patient’s behavior

In severe cases of dementia, the patient’s power of speech is totally disabled by the disease. At this point, a caregiver has to depend on the patient’s behavior to understand what the senior person wants, something that many caregivers have found quite challenging.


Feeling of loss

Most caretakers find it a challenge to communicate with their elderly parents who are suffering from dementia because it is common at this age for most seniors to resign to their fate. Due to this, adult children usually feel like they have already lost their parent to the disease.


Difficulty in the expression of emotions

Even when children grow into adulthood, parents still find it challenging to genuinely convey their feelings and emotions to their children. Still, children may not completely understand their parent’s emotions bringing about a misperception hence disconnect in communication.


How to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia

How to talk to someone with Alzheimer's or dementia

Considering that they are constantly affected by mood swings, talking to elderly patients with dementia requires not only effective dementia communication techniques but also the patience and the diligence it takes to implement them. The following tips will come in handy when speaking to a patient with dementia.

  • Avoid rectifying their speech. A caregiver needs to be a patient and good listener. When an elderly parent messes with their words, do not be very fast in correcting them.
  • Visit elderly parents at convenient times. Parents with dementia living alone should be visited at a time when the physician will recommend. Visiting should not be done in the evening hours because elderly parents are usually affected by ‘sundowner syndrome’, a condition that makes them aggressive at sunset.
  • Converse about past events. The best way to open a conversation is by using conversation starters for Alzheimer’s patients. This could be past happenings such as vacations which are easier for seniors to recall compared to things that happened in the recent. Other starters include items or activities that they love or once loved which are bound to trigger memorable moments and get them to talk.
  • Be ready for repeat phrases. Older people affected by dementia often have selected stories that they love to recall and retell. A caregiver should not interrupt when their seniors repeat speech instead, act as if you are hearing it for the very first time and enjoy it with them.

The mental transformation that occurs in an elderly person with Alzheimer’s can radically affect the patient’s capacity to relay information. Here are a few tips on how to dialogue with an elderly patient who has Alzheimer’s

  • Concentrate fully on the conversation. Maintaining eye contact and referring to the senior by name helps to fuel a positive conversation. The senior feels that they have the caregiver’s full attention thereby making them very co-operative.
  • Minimize the number of participants in a dialogue. Caretakers should always have one-on-one conversations with their elderly parents as engaging more than one person confuses them.
  • Avoid arguments. Adult children should not argue with their elderly parents who have Alzheimer’s. This will make communication extremely difficult.


Dementia and Alzheimer’s medical treatment options

Dementia and Alzheimer are commonly managed using non-drug remedies. However extreme cases may require drug treatment options. Drugs like Beta-amyloid, Tau Protein, 5-HT2A receptor, Cholinesterase inhibitors, and Memantine have been used towards the treatment of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia and not the underlying causes of these diseases.

These address symptoms individually for instance memory, sleep, and depression problems. Some drugs have side effects like dizziness hence putting the user at a higher risk of falls. It is advisable to consult a physician and let them be the ones to prescribe medication after evaluating the symptoms of your loved one.

Overall, non-drug treatments like occupational therapy, modification of the environment as well as the duties a senior undertakes are usually the best option.


Can dementia be prevented?

It is possible to delay or prevent the symptoms of dementia by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Of greatest importance is your brain’s health. Here are some valuable tips to help keep your brain healthy.

  • Exercise. A regular workout regime of at least 150 minutes per week benefits the brain by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Include muscle building, coordination, and balance exercises. Checking blood pressure and maintaining it at the required level by maintaining a healthy body weight and the required BMI.
  • Social engagement. Socializing and keeping positive relationships and interactions are good for the brain and will help delay the effects of Alzheimer’s.
  • Mental power. Being mentally active helps slow down cognitive decline. Try to enhance your mental and intellectual capabilities by reading and learning new things and doing memory enhancing activities like puzzles.
  • Sleep. Sleeping helps put your brain and entire body system to rest. Lack of or disturbed sleep has been connected to an increase in the protein known as beta-amyloid which is not good for the brain and which increases the risk of Alzheimer.
  • Healthy eating. Too much sugar and fats increase the likelihood of high blood sugar which affects the brain since it takes oxygen present in the blood supplied to the brain for the brain to function. A balanced diet with generous portions of fruits and vegetables is recommended.
  • Manage depression. Addressing depression as soon as it rears its ugly head because it will affect memory and normal brain functioning.



Losing the capacity to pass information is enough stress for the elderly person. Establishing an effective, clear, and open communication will significantly help to restore their dignity. An effective strategy, as we have seen, may not be a one-time or one-activity remedy. It is all about life itself. It involves their health and nutrition, social life, exercise program and overall, their behavior. It is an everyday effort to improve their entire being as they age. However, starting early in life is the best remedy for preventing or slowing down the symptoms of dementia. It takes simple things like eating healthy, exercising, socializing, avoiding alcoholism and smoking, stress management, as well as regular medical check-ups. Maintaining a healthy body during your youth will certainly reward you with less or delayed old symptoms of conditions usually associated with old age like dementia.

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