Tips for Speaking to a Person Who Has Alzheimer’s

How asking the right questions can encourage conversation


- Posted on Feb 14, 2019

Tips for Speaking to a Person Who Has Alzheimer’s

This article is based on information provided by Home Instead Senior Care.

“My mother has Alzheimer’s, and on most days, I’m not sure she can even understand anything I talk about. Her eyes glazed over as she watched TV from her armchair. I would try to brighten her mood by bringing up topics like the news or what I was making for dinner. Nothing worked.

“Then one day, without realizing it, I stumbled upon a key that unlocked something deep within my mom. An ad for engagement rings came on the TV and I casually asked her whether she remembered when my dad had proposed to her. Her eyes brightened immediately and she seemed to be filled with happiness. She went on to tell me, in great detail, about the proposal. It had been weeks since she had spoken that much. It was clear to me that Mom actually did remember much of her past vividly, and she seemed delighted to share her stories with me. A good question was all it took to open her up.”

Asking questions can spark a meaningful conversation full of special memories. A person with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias will particularly appreciate the opportunity to pass on personal history and wisdom before it’s too late.

As a conversation starter, you can prompt the person with dementia to elaborate by asking open-ended questions and then listen patiently. 

Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What are some of the most valuable things you learned from your parents?
  • When you were a teenager, what did you and your friends do for fun?
  • What chores did you have to do when you were growing up?
  • What did your grandparents and great grandparents do for a living?
  • When you were growing up, what did you dream you would do with your life?
  • What was the happiest moment of your life?
  • What are some of the things you are most grateful for?
  • What accomplishments in your life are you most proud of?
  • How would you like to be remembered?

These questions are a great way to begin conversations at mealtimes, while completing daily activities together, or at a family gathering. Work up to the deeper questions like “How would you like to be remembered?” and you can follow up with related questions to keep the conversation going. Switch to another topic if your family member with dementia gets confused, frustrated or upset by your questions. You can always rephrase the question and try asking it again at another time.

By asking good questions, you’re inviting your family member with dementia to share important life experiences that you can hold dear in your memory even when that person no longer can. You’ll not only enrich your loved one’s life during the moments those memories are shared, but you’ll be able to preserve the memories until it’s time to pass them along to the next generation.

You can find additional memory-evoking question ideas at StoryCorps.org and great conversation starters for mealtimes at Caregiverstress.com.

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