Difficulties with communication can be one of the most disturbing early signs of Alzheimer's disease. The destruction/damage to brain cells affects not only the ability to remember words but also the appropriate use of words. Repetitive questions because the person doesn't remember they asked that ten times already, inappropriate language, because they say what comes into their minds without the "social filter" healthy brains have, and anxiety about misspeaking may result social isolation and anxiety.
You may be hesitate to take the impaired person to church because you don't know what they may do or say. The impaired person may suddenly start using curse words you never knew them to use. When the mind begins to lose the ability to bring up appropriate words to express a feeling, the words that are connected with powerful emotions are typically the last words lost.
Patients may engage in word substitution (saying "that thing with yellow bumps on it" -instead of CORN ) or regularly fail to understand oral and/or written directions as the disease process interferes with the synapse connections in the brain that process language. They may be able to repeat the directions you said and still not understand it. They may be able to read an instruction yet be completly unable to perform the action indicated.
Ideas for dealing with communication problems include:
-Get their attention before you begin talking
-Speak in short, direct phrases
-Don't insist on reasoning and explaining again and again
-Make statements "We're going now." NOT "Would you like to go with me to .....and then we'll ....."
-Use gestures with your words
-The person is likely to remember the last two words of a statement. If you say, "Don't go to that door!" They may well only remember.."go to door", thereby doing just what you said not to do.
-Allow time for the person to express himself, don't suggest a word too quickly if they are stalled.
-If you still can't understand, repeat what you think they said and ask if that is what they wanted.
-Pay more attention to their body language than their words.
-Sometimes just providing a distraction, food/drink/noise, and then revisiting the conversation will help
-Don't respond to rude comments when this isn't their normal nature
-Join others at Statesboro support group for family care providers - 2nd Monday of each month at 1:30 at Statesboro First United Methodist church in the church library on the second floor. No reservations needed. Also go to www.alz.org
or call 1-800-272-3900 24 hr. helpline for the Alzheimer's Association.
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