Communicating with Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients January 31 2013


It is surprising how much people in the early to mid-stages of Alzheimer’s disease love to talk. While they may sometimes have difficulty finding the “right words” or fully comprehend what others are saying to them, many still enjoy the “art of conversation.” To promote meaningful engagement, try these tips:

Sit down (or walk).  Find a place to talk free of distractions such as radio or television. Sit side by side in comfortable chairs or face to face at a table. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease prefer to walk and talk, which provides an opportunity to exercise while socializing.

Take it slow.  Talk slowly in a gentle tone to promote a calm atmosphere. When speaking, use simple words and short sentences, but avoid talking to the person as if they were a child. Be patient and give the person time to reflect and respond.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”  Use photographs to encourage reminiscing. Large, vivid photographs from books, magazines, or newspapers are sometimes easier to discuss than family photos. It is often less challenging for the person with Alzheimer’s disease to talk about a “generic” photo rather than try to remember a particular family member, place, or event.

Inquiring minds...  Asking simple questions is a great way to initiate a conversation. But, be conscious of the types of questions you ask. Closed-ended (yes or no) or “either/or” questions often provide the best results. However, open-ended questions may be used depending on the person’s ability. Avoid starting any question with, “Do you remember?” If you’re not getting a response to a particular question, try rephrasing it in a different manner or offer a personal story related to the question.

Encourage more.  Often people living with Alzheimer’s disease need validation or encouragement to continue sharing an experience. Acknowledge each contribution in a positive manner and encourage further discussion. If the person begins to speak and stops, try repeating what they had just said, or state, “I would like to hear more about that.” Also, maintaining eye contact, nodding, and smiling if appropriate, conveys to the person you are listening.

Sharing stories can be a heartwarming and enjoyable experience. Through meaningful conversations we can experience a unique perspective on life and allow a personal story to be shared, and an individual’s legacy to be preserved.

Shadowbox Press Conversation Cards are developed to provide dementia activities for seniors living with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia. Each of our two decks features vivid photography, large-print text, and more than 450 questions. The questions are designed to encourage adults living with memory loss to reminisce, recall memories, share stories, and improve the quality of engagement between themselves and their caregivers. For more information or to place your order, call us toll-free at (888) 796-6333.