November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. As a medical professional, use these tips to help overcome the challenges of communicating with these patients
If you see people going purple this month, they are raising awareness for Alzheimer’s Disease. This degenerative mental disease effects more than 5 million Americans, with more than 10 million who care for someone with the disease, and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Alzheimer’s is an incurable, progressive disease. As the brain declines, your patients lose the ability to communicate and have difficulty finding the right words; use familiar words more regularly; lose their train of thought easily; and may speak less often.
Communication with an Alzheimer’s patient requires patience and good listening skills. Learning how to communicate with these patients at the various levels of the disease can help you better understand their needs. Here are some ways you can better communicate with your patients as this disease progresses:
While each patient will vary, Alzheimer’s patients often have similar issues during the different stages of the disease. In the earliest phase, your patient may still be able to participate in conversations and attend social activities. However, you may notice he or she has a hard time finding the right word or repeats stories.
As a caregiver, make sure you include them in all conversations. You should give them more time to respond and not interrupt them when they are speaking. Speak directly to your patient to see how he or she is doing.
During the next phase of the illness, typically the longest, your patient will increasingly have difficulty communicating. To show you care about what your patient has to say, use their name to get their attention and maintain good eye contact.
Talking to an Alzheimer’s patient one-on-one and removing distractions from the room will help them from losing their train of thought. Clarify what they are trying to tell you by repeating it back to them. And keep things simple by using one-step instructions. If they don’t remember you, just reintroduce yourself.
During the final stages of Alzheimer’s, patients become more nonverbal, either using sounds or facial expressions to communicate. Although they may be struggling to speak, as a caregiver, you should not stop talking. By talking, you show them that you support them and they are still valuable.
If you don’t understand what your patient is trying to say, encourage him or her to use nonverbal communication. Also try to understand the feelings behind the words and sounds because sometimes the emotion he or she is trying to convey is more important.
No matter what stage, it’s important to treat Alzheimer patients with dignity and respect and have a lot of patience. Don’t try to correct them, even if they are wrong, to avoid making them angry or embarrassed. If you care for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, don’t forget to show your purple this month. For more information about the disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Association.