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How To Talk To A Parent With Dementia Or Alzheimer’s

How To Talk To a Parent With Dementia or Alzheimer’s

Caring for a parent with impaired memory can be challenging and emotionally taxing. You may also find it hard to talk to your parent as their communication skills dwindle. Perhaps they become easily agitated during regular conversations. Maybe they have trouble identifying you as their child. 

No matter what challenges you face as your parent’s caregiver or concerned child, there are ways to approach conversations that foster communication and build connections. 

Show Patience and Compassion

Alzheimer’s and dementia are extremely frustrating diseases for patients and loved ones. You might feel like you have lost your parent while they are still alive, leading to feelings of anger, impatience, and stress. It is understandable to feel these emotions, but taking them out on your parent will only make the situation worse for everyone. 

Try to hold space for empathy and patience as your parent works their hardest to communicate. Remember, they have no control over their illness and are likely just as frustrated (if not more so) than you. Your patience will enable your parent to communicate without pressure and anxiety and help you learn how to talk to a parent with dementia. 

Limit Questions 

Asking a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia too many questions can cause them frustration and stress. Their brain has to work extra hard to interpret your questions and come up with answers. 

For that reason, try to limit questions and instead rephrase them as directives. But be careful not to seem overbearing, and when learning how to talk to a parent with dementia, avoid talking at them. Instead, talk with them. 

For example, rather than asking, “do you want to eat right now?” try saying, “lunch is on the table for you when you want to eat.” The second question gives your parent solid information about food and leaves the choice to eat up to them. You may have to provide frequent reminders, but it is better than overwhelming them with questions. 

Avoid Overcorrection

It can be tempting to correct your parent’s inaccurate statements and memories. However, you should avoid this as much as possible as their Alzheimers or dementia progresses. Overcorrection can agitate, frustrate, and sadden your parent, who is struggling with information processing. 

If your parent remembers something differently from you, allow them to express their ideas anyway. It is unnecessary to force them to revisit their memories and question themselves further. You can still have meaningful conversations, even if their memory is inaccurate. 

Treat Them with Dignity

Of course, you love and care for your parent struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Still, while you may have the best intentions, you might find yourself speaking to them like a child. This type of behavior takes away their dignity as they progress further into their disease. After all, they still have important feelings and wishes, so ideally, that’s not how to talk to your parent with dementia. 

While you may have to speak more slowly and clearly to communicate with your parent, avoid child-like phrases. You can keep your tone calm and clear without treating them like a child. You do not have to enact discipline or “tests” of their abilities like we often do with children. 

Treat your parent with dignity and respect as if they were still lucid. Avoid talking down to them or ignoring their feelings. Try to think about how you would want to be spoken to if you were the one in their position. 

Don’t Engage in Arguments

Parents with Alzheimer’s or dementia can become easily irritated and argumentative in the later stages of these diseases. Do not fall into the trap of bickering with them.

They believe that their perception is reality, and attempting to change that will only confuse and agitate them more. 

Avoiding arguments can keep the peace between you and allow for a stronger emotional connection during this difficult stage. Remember that small details are not important in the long run. What matters is how you engage with your parent in the present. 

Offer Suggestions Instead of Corrections

If your parent has difficulty recalling vocabulary or using communication skills, feel free to suggest what they might be thinking, but avoid correcting their speech or word choice. This can help your parent remain aware of important information like names for objects, metaphors, and other communication skills. 

For example, if your parent calls the telephone a radio, say something like, “I think that might be for talking on the phone, not listening to music.” This is less confrontational than correction, and your parent will feel more respected than if you just said, “No, that is the phone, not the radio.” 

Express Your Love

As a caregiver or a loving child of someone with dementia, you face a lot of emotional and physical labor each day. It is easy to forget that your parent still needs reminders that they are loved. 

So, when you’re figuring out how to talk to a parent with dementia, don’t forget to tell your parent that you love them and are here for them. It might seem obvious to you because you do the majority of their tasks for them. However, a simple “I love you and am always here for you” can brighten your loved one’s day more than you know. 

Communication is one of the most important tools when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. You can make life easier for yourself and your loved one if you remain patient and compassionate. Follow these tips for a smoother experience with day-to-day conversations. 

If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater San Diego, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices throughout California including: Campbell, CARoseville, CASan Marcos, CA, and San Mateo, CA.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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