6 Things to Say to Someone With Alzheimer’s (And 3 Things to Never Say)

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The right type of communication can greatly benefit someone with dementia.

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Seeing someone you care about experience Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia is painstakingly difficult. Knowing what to say to someone who’s lost his or her memory can also be hard. However, how you approach conversations can have a significant impact on your loved one.

“The most important tip for communication with someone living with Alzheimer’s is to meet them where they are,” said Ruth Drew, director of Information and Support Services at the Alzheimer’s Association. “In the early stage of the disease, a person is still able to have meaningful conversations, but may repeat stories, feel overwhelmed by excessive stimulation, or have difficulty finding the right word. Be patient and understand that their brain is not working in the way it once did.”

As the disease progresses, communicating with that person may become even more challenging. However, if you recognize the changes and challenges that come with dementia, you will more easily be able to alter your conversations with that person to meet his or her needs.

“This may require slowing down and making eye contact with the person as you speak,” says Drew. “Use short, simple sentences, ask one question at a time, and give the person time to process and respond before continuing the conversation. If you are kind, gentle and relaxed, everything will work better.”

Read on for six helpful things to say to those with Alzheimer’s, and three topics and phrases experts recommend avoiding.

What to say: “Tell me about your daughter.”

Although this type of question isn’t best for when you need to get specific information (see next item), it’s a great way to communicate with your loved one without them feeling as though they’re being quizzed or becoming frustrated that they don’t have the answer. For example, this approach is better than asking for specific details, such as, “How old is your daughter?”

“Open-ended questions are great when you want to have a conversation and connect,” says Drew. “People living with Alzheimer’s may enjoy talking about their families, friends, and the things they like in life, whether it’s a hobby, an old TV show, or their favorite foods.”

Keep in mind that while someone with Alzheimer’s may not remember events that happened earlier that day, they can often talk about their long-term memories with much joy.

“Most times they remember the past much better than the present,” says Douglas Scharre, professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry and director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Neurological Institute. “So discussion of old times is often very enjoyable.”

What to say: “Would you like some tea?”

When the purpose isn’t to simply chat, but rather to obtain information from your loved one, questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no” are best. “Asking a person “What would you like to drink?” may be overwhelming, because it requires the person to recall an array of options and then make a decision,” says Drew. Alternatively, asking “Would you like some tea?” is a more simple, straightforward question.

If you do end up asking an open-ended question, be prepared to follow up with a more specific one. “Help focus a response if the person is having difficulty,” Drew adds. “For example, if you ask, ‘What would you like to do today?’ and receive no response, follow up by asking, ‘Would you like to take a walk outside?’”

What not to say: “What’s my name? Do you remember?”