How to Talk to Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients

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Alzheimer’s disease quietly sneaks up on its victims. It intrudes on the privacy of their minds and steals their identity without their knowledge or permission. The beginning signs are subtle, and are often dismissed as simple lapses in memory.

When someone you know begins the long journey into the black hole of Alzheimer’s disease or starts to show signs of dementia, you will need to be prepared for what lies ahead.

At first, you may notice car keys in the silverware drawer, or find the milk tucked neatly on the pantry shelf. Dementia comes and goes. One day your loved may be alert and lucid, but the next day she may call you by her sister’s name. She may ask the same question five times in a short conversation, or repeat a story more than once at the dinner table.

If your parent, spouse, neighbor, or someone you’re caring for in an institutional setting is suffering from a debilitating brain disorder, the following tips will help you communicate with the patient and walk him gently through the stages of the disease.

Meet Them Where They Are

People who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease have difficulty with short-term memory. They seem to revert to the past, to a time when they were young, carefree and happy. They can remember their second grade teacher’s name or the details of their wedding dress, but may not remember what they ate for breakfast or how to dress themselves.

Patients love to talk about the past. Your parent may think you’re still in elementary school and ask you if you finished your homework. Resist the temptation to orient the person to place and time. Just participate in the conversation, and let the person reminisce. Sometimes correcting or criticizing someone who is confused will cause him to become defensive, or even hostile.

I Want To Go Home

Alzheimer’s and dementia patients often express the desire to go home. They may tell you they want to go home if they’re sitting in their own living room. They’re probably referring to their childhood home, or the home they shared with their spouse. Be kind and reassuring. The goal is to help the patient find contentment in his environment. If the patient is in a nursing home, you may take him for a short walk, and then back to his room. "Here we are, back home,” may be enough to settle the patient and help him feel better.

Alzheimer’s is scary for the victim of the disease, and for those who love him. A calm, loving environment will help everyone through the transition and give comfort to the person whose life is slowly slipping away. Help the patient find the happy place in his mind, and provide comfort, support and loving reassurance.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "How to Talk to Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients," in, February 21, 2016, (accessed October 4, 2022).