Listening and Communicating

Alzheimer’s disease can make it difficult for you to communicate with your loved one, but there are steps you can take to improve the situation.

The key to good communication involves the action of both sender and receiver. If your loved one with has difficulty saying what he or she wants to say, or responding verbally to a question, then you must try to compensate.

Eight Ways To Improve Your Listening Ability

  1. Listen carefully without speaking.
  2. Be patient. It may take two or three minutes for your loved one to comprehend and respond.
  3. If after a few minutes there’s no response, gently repeat what you said.
  4. Use short sentences and plain words. Avoid complicated questions or directions.
  5. Do not interrupt. Your loved one may need a very long time to express him or herself.
  6. Show interest. Let your loved one know that you wish to understand what he or she is trying to say.
  7. Try to overlook outbursts and rude, angry, or hurtful language. Be calm and tactful even in the face of a loud outburst.
  8. Don’t assume that your loved one understands. He or she will forget and you’ll have to repeat yourself often. Observe your loved one to determine if he or she truly understands a direction.

Six Ways To Improve Concentration

  1. Sit or stand directly opposite your loved one and make eye contact when you speak.
  2. Distractions—such as TV, loud music, or background noise—may interfere. Wait until an interlude, or place yourself between your loved one and the distraction.
  3. If your loved one is involved in an activity that requires concentration, you may have to wait until you can get his or her attention.
  4. Be prepared for difficulty communicating in shopping centers, restaurants, and other crowded areas. Have patience and be prepared to take extra time.
  5. Set aside a place at home specifically for clear communicating.
  6. Observe your loved one’s daily habits. Try to determine the best times and places to communicate. This will reduce your loved one’s frustration, as well as your own.

Five Ways To Improve Your Self-Expression

  1. Before asking your loved one a question, think about the desired result. Simplify your information and ask only one question at a time; or give only one direction at a time.
  2. Avoid treating your loved one like a child. Your loved one is aware of his or her diminished capabilities, which can be frustrating and humiliating.
  3. Hold your temper. It can be exasperating to repeat yourself over and over, but your tone may determine if the situation is stressful or not.
  4. Listen to the sound of your own voice. Does it convey irritation? Exasperation? Anger? If so, stop and begin again, speaking slowly, clearly, and respectfully.
  5. What does your body language convey? Your loved one’s abilities may be diminished, but he or she can still pick up cues from your expressions if you are ill at ease.

Communication Problems

If your loved one has difficulty communicating, then your role as a caregiver becomes more difficult. You will need to observe your loved one closely and adjust to changing abilities. Stay alert to the possible impact of other health, vision, or hearing problems on communication.

Managing the day-to-day routine will take more time and effort. Dealing with your loved one can become frustrating and irritating. If you are upset or angry, your loved one will almost surely become even more difficult to handle. As a result, you will need to develop techniques for coping both with the care problems and with your own feelings. Some strategies to consider:

  • Retreat from an irritating situation. Losing your temper won’t help, and it may cause a difficult reaction in your loved one.
  • If you do lose your temper, don’t worry needlessly. You may feel sad or guilty, but your loved one will forget such incidents quickly.
  • Provide structure to your loved one’s day. A regular routine will be easier for both of you.
  • Take a break when you need one. Call on other family members and friends to help out. You might also consider hiring professional help occasionally.
  • Talk with others in similar situations. Other people may have suggestions for coping with the problems you face.
  • Join an Alzheimer’s support group. Ask your health care team or a local hospital for a referral.
  • If you don’t feel at ease in a big group, talk to a friend, professional counselor, or member of the clergy. They can help you find ways to deal with the emotional burden of caregiving.
  • Remember that problems don’t result from your loved one’s willful refusal to cooperate, and they don’t occur because you are a poor caregiver; they are simply part of the disease.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from Special Care Problems: Aggressive and Violent Behavior, by Kenneth Hepburn, PhD. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minn.

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