6 Tips for Communicating With Those Who Have Advanced Alzheimer's

Show your loved one you care with little gestures. 

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- Posted on Nov 19, 2019

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My mom has stage six Alzheimer’s. On her good days, she can talk to me a little bit. I can feed her a bite and ask, “Do you like this?” She can say “yes” or shake her head; occasionally she’ll say “good” when I give her ice cream. Those days are rare and precious. But I’ve learned there are other ways of communicating with her, even on days when she can’t respond verbally.

Here are a few tips for communicating with your loved one, even in the most advanced stage of Alzheimer’s:

1. Keep saying “I love you”

When I was a child, my family showed love through actions more than words. I regret not saying “I love you” to my mom more often before she showed signs of Alzheimer’s. Now I say it to her several times, every time I visit, and she almost always responds with a smile or a nod.

2. Use gentle touches

Physical touch is an important and easy way to communicate you care. When I gently rub the back of Mom’s neck, she leans in and sighs with contentment. Playing softly with her hair gets the same reaction. Holding her hand while watching TV or listening to music is very soothing for her.

Mom’s hands remain clenched most of the time because she also suffers from Parkinson’s (which mimics many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s). I recently learned from another caregiver that gently rubbing pure vanilla into the palm of her clenched hands helps keep bacteria from forming and also keeps her hands smelling great, plus it is another form of relaxing physical touch.       

3. Make eye contact

Even if your loved one can’t verbally or physically communicate, it really is true that the eyes are the window to the soul. Make eye contact and try to convey your love and appreciation through your eyes. Mom is in a wheelchair so I squat or sit down to make sure we are on the same level.

4. Help with mealtime

Feeding can be another way of communicating. If your loved one is in a memory care facility, the staff employees are trying to feed several people at once. When I visit, I will feed Mom slowly and patiently without making her feel rushed. I let her take as long as she wants and only feed her what I know are her favorite foods. Ice cream with hot fudge and caramel topping is my go-to dessert. She enjoys small spoonfuls at a time and it is obvious that she is savoring every bite.

5. Kiss goodbye

Kissing was not a big part of my childhood, but now when I’m about to leave, I kiss Mom on the cheek. She will light up and occasionally will respond by kissing my cheek. When that happens, I feel like I’ve been given a precious gift.

6. Remind them you’re coming back

Saying goodbye can be heart wrenching. This may not be how others would choose to do it, but I tell Mom that I will be back later that day or that I have to go run an errand, even if I know I won’t be back for a few days. She doesn’t panic if she thinks I’ll be back soon.

Remember that even though your loved one may not be able to communicate with words, it is important for you to still communicate your love to him or her. Even if they don’t respond, they will feel your love.

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