Communication Frustrations Between An Alzheimer’s Patient And A Caretaker


Building communication with an Alzheimer’s patient is a challenge.  Whether you are a family member or a caregiver, regularly communicating with someone who has the disease is surely going to require patience and understanding.  Alzheimer’s disease involves a deterioration of the intellectual process, which can disrupt a patient’s ability to speak as well as hear and process information.  This doesn’t mean that all communication is useless.  Speaking to and expressing love to an Alzheimer’s patient is still very important.  Consider some common communication frustrations and the effective way to deal with them.

Problem: A caregiver becomes irritated that a patient can’t follow what she is saying.  The problem only seems to escalate the more the caretaker repeats herself and increases her volume.

Solution: Remember not to use complicated thoughts or ask questions with too many options if you don’t have to.  The best way to communicate with a patient is to use short, literal sentences and simple words.  Tone is also very important.  A calm and gentle way of speaking always lets the patient know you are there to help.

Problem: A caregiver simplifies his sentences and speaks affectionately to his patient.  But the patient is not responding well and seems to be getting angrier as the conversation goes on.

Solution: Be careful not to oversimplify your statement as if talking to the patient like he or she were a baby.  You are still speaking to a full grown adult and some patients can pick up on a patronizing tone.  The tone of voice should be compassionate, not schmaltzy.

Problem: Two family members are discussing their Alzheimer’s affected relative and his inability to perform some daily routine.  One family member goes over ready to help the patient dress but senses some resistance.

Solution: Just because a person has Alzheimer’s disease, even an advanced state, does not necessarily mean they are oblivious to what is happening around them.  A patient may hear what others are saying about him.

Problem: A caretaker enters and finds her patient in bed watching television.  As she passes by, she tells him they are going out for lunch and that later a friend of the patient will drop by.  The patient doesn’t respond and so she quickly moves in closer and repeats herself.  The patient seems anxious.

Solution: Extra noise such as the television or radio can be distracting, especially if you are trying to communicate directions.  For the best results get rid of any distractions first and try not to make sudden movements.  Move in slowly, standing or sitting in front of the person and making eye contact.  Use the patient’s name and make sure you have his or her attention before speaking.  This helps the person focus on what you are saying and remain calm.

Problem: A caretaker asks a simple question of a patient.  The patient delays in answering so the caretaker repeats herself.  The patient still waits, so the caretaker decides to rephrase the question in simpler terms.  The communication deteriorates into conflict.

Solution: It is important to allow enough time for a response when conversing with an Alzheimer’s patient.  Interrupting, or even rephrasing the question, can confuse a person who is trying to process and state how he feels.  The most effective way to get a response is to ask one question at a time and then wait for an answer.  On the other hand, if a patient struggles to find a word or express a feeling, gently suggesting the word he or she is looking for could help.  Common courtesy in this case would be the best advice.

Problem: A caretaker notices that a patient is feeling resistant to help or consistently depressed.  He can’t think of anything impolite or disrespectful he might have done.  The patient expresses no concerns when asked if there’s a problem.

Solution: A cheerful and warm disposition is important to keep when handling an Alzheimer’s patient.  Whether it’s merely validating their feelings or acknowledging frustrations, or even joking and singing to get a smile, a patient must understand that you care about them.  Try framing questions and especially instructions in a positive way, always mindful of the patient’s comfort.

Problem: A caretaker is tired and stressed out.  This attitude seems contagious and begins to affect the patient.  The patient refuses to follow directions and puts up resistance.

Solution: Alzheimer’s disease is not easy on anybody, the patient or the caretaker.  It is a difficult situation and much patience is needed during this very vulnerable time.  If a patient refuses to cooperate, then let him or her say no.  You can approach them again later when they are in a better mood.  There is nothing wrong with taking a few minutes away from your patient and relaxing.  In fact, it is the advisable thing to do in most cases.  When you return, you will be feeling better and your patient, maybe in a better mood himself, will be more willing to respond.

Communication between caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients can lead to frustrations.  However, with patience and a good understanding of what Alzheimer’s patients need in a caretaker, some of these common frustrations can be dealt with.