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Improving Communication with Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease

People with Alzheimer’s may have difficulties communicating. Alzheimer’s disease makes a person forgetful and confused.  

Here are some reasons people with Alzheimer’s may have difficulties communicating: 

  • Unable to remember certain words 

  • Unable to find the right word they want to use 

  • Unable to remember the meaning of a word 

  • Forget what they want to say  

  • May not be able to pay attention during a conversation 

  • Frustration from not being able to communicate the way they want 

Because of these difficulties, someone with Alzheimer’s communicates differently than someone without the disease. Alzheimer’s patients could use a familiar word repeatedly, describing the object instead of using the name for it, using gestures, or they could decide not to talk very often. However, there are certain things we should not say to an Alzheimer’s patients, but also ways to help them communicate better.  

What Not to Say/Do: 

  • Don’t ask them to remember – they already have a hard time remembering  

  • Don’t tell them they have Alzheimer’s – they already cannot reason and this will be hard for them to understand 

  • Don’t exclude the person from conversations 

  • Don’t correct them – this could make them embarrassed or upset 

  • Avoid the words “no,” “don’t,” or “can’t” 

  • Don’t talk down to them – they are still a person 

  • Don’t talk about the person as if they are not there 

  • Don’t make a sentence too long – they may not be able to focus 

  • Don’t answer questions regarding bad memories – if the Alzheimer’s patient asks about their brother who has passed away, instead of reminding them they have passed away, try saying, “They are not here right now, but tell me more about them.” 

What to Say/Do: 

  • Make sure the environment around them is quiet so they can hear clearly and be able to focus 

  • Make eye contact  

  • Use their name when speaking to them 

  • Approach the person from the front and identify yourself 

  • Speak slow and clear 

  • Be aware of your tone and body language  

  • Let them make some decisions and stay involved 

  • Be calm, patient, sensitive, and understanding  

  • Offer simple, step by step instructions 

  • Use shorter, simpler or more straightforward sentences  

  • Ask one question at a time 

  • Ask yes or no questions 

  • Limit the number of choices – too many options can make them confused 

The most important thing to remember when talking to someone with Alzheimer’s disease is that they are still a person and this disease is very difficult for them. Because of all the confusion, the person with Alzheimer’s disease wants a friend to be there for them. Instead of focusing on the hard times, remember the good and play to their strengths.  


For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and communication: 


Written By: Sabrina Roley, Family Life Intern, Family Consumer Sciences, Eastern Illinois University