How to Talk to Someone with Alzheimer’s: Use Short, Direct Sentences

how to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s

Communication changes when someone has Alzheimer’s

When someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia, changes in their brain cause a decline in their ability to listen and respond to normal conversation.

Speaking in short, direct sentences helps you communicate with your older adult in a way that’s more comfortable for them. They’ll be more likely to understand what you’re saying and respond appropriately.

We explain why this technique works and share 4 real-life examples you can use.



Why short and sweet sentences work better

Alzheimer’s and dementia affect the brain’s ability to process and retrieve information. That can make it very difficult for someone with dementia to listen, understand, and respond appropriately to normal conversation.

Short, direct sentences with only one thought per sentence are easier for your older adult to understand. Anything that’s long or complex can be overwhelming because it’s too much to process.

This technique might feel weird at first because we’re used to making friendly conversation to tell someone what’s happening or to show that we care. But combining fewer words with a warm and positive tone will be less frustrating for seniors with dementia and is just as kind.


4 real-life examples of how to communicate with fewer words

We’ve got 4 suggestions for using short, direct sentences to speak to someone with Alzheimer’s. Even if the sentences are brief, using a kind and gentle tone makes it clear that you’re not angry.

Example 1: It’s time for your older adult to use the restroom
DO say: It’s time to go to the bathroom now.

DON’T say: It’s been about an hour since you last visited the bathroom so why don’t we go to the bathroom and you can give it a try. Ok? How does that sound? Do you want to go to the bathroom now?


Example 2: It’s time for your older adult to have lunch
DO say: Mmmmm, it’s time to eat spaghetti!…(pause)…Let’s walk to the kitchen together.

DON’T say: Are you hungry? It’s lunch time and I thought you’d enjoy one of your favorites – spaghetti.​ Let’s go to the kitchen so you can eat. After lunch, we’ll go outside for a walk so you can get some fresh air. How does that sound?


Example 3: You’re taking your older adult to a doctor appointment
DO say: It’s time to go out…(pause)…Here’s your jacket…(pause)…Let’s get into the car.

DON’T say: We’re going to see Dr. Lee today. She’s going to check to see how you’re doing with those new medications. Remember how we had to reschedule the appointment from last month? I’m glad she had an opening this soon. You know what? It’s a little chilly today, why don’t you put on your jacket and then we’ll go out to the car.


Example 4: A family member or friend has come to visit
DO say: It’s Mike, your brother…(pause)…He’s come to say hello!

DON’T say: Oh look, you have a visitor! Do you know who that is? Mike was just here last week. Remember what you talked about?


New techniques take practice and adjustment

Each person is different and is at a different stage of cognitive impairment. The best thing to do is experiment to figure out what works best for your older adult.

It takes some time to figure it out, so be patient with yourself too. It takes practice to communicate effectively with someone who has dementia.


Recommended for you:
3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home
12 Engaging Activities for Seniors with Dementia: Reduce Agitation and Boost Mood
4 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Keeps Repeating Questions


By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Seniors Connect

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