Living With Alzheimer’s: How to Connect Without Words

Words are not required to communicate feelings of love and caring. But if your loved one is living with Alzheimer’s, the progression of the disease can make verbal conversations more challenging. It’s essential that family and friends continue to find ways to communicate and to be aware of non-verbal cues their loved one may be trying to express. These efforts can help maintain a sense of connection.

Difficulties in conversation and communicating can occur even in the early stages for someone living with Alzheimer’s. This can often be one of the first signs. Families may notice their loved one struggling to find the right word, misunderstanding the meaning of words or becoming unable to follow a train of thought throughout a conversation.

There are some basic recommendations to help, such as always speaking directly to the person and not rushing any responses. Finding a quiet place to talk without distractions, asking yes-or-no questions and using visual cues can assist your loved one to better understand. But it’s also essential to remember that everyone living with Alzheimer’s can respond differently so you will want to tailor your interactions accordingly.

If your loved one is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, increased reliance on non-verbal communication becomes more common. You’ll want to pay attention to any expressions that may be used to communicate pain, anxiety, hunger or thirst.

Regardless of the level of communication your loved one is able to express, it’s critical to never speak about the person as if they are not there. Always include them in any conversations and acknowledge their presence. 

Although it can be challenging, there are several ways you can maintain a connection, even without words. Here are 10 suggestions to consider:

  1. Use Non-Verbal Communication
    Communicate through body language, smiles and a gentle touch. Facial expressions and physical touch can convey love, affection and reassurance.
  2. Utilize Visual Aids
    Pictures of family members, familiar objects or places can help stimulate recognition and memories. These visual cues can also be used to communicate needs or emotions.
  3. Play Familiar Music
    Music can be a powerful tool in evoking emotions and memories. Play songs that were meaningful to your loved one in the past.
  4. Create a Calm Environment
    Reduce background noise and distractions to make it easier for your loved one to focus. A quiet environment can reduce confusion and agitation.
  5. Use Simple Gestures
    Simple gestures like nodding, pointing, or gently guiding their hands can help in communication. These gestures can assist them in making choices or expressing basic needs.
  6. Read Aloud
    Reading your loved one’s favorite books, newspapers or magazines can be comforting. Even if they don’t understand the words, the sound of your voice can be soothing.
  7. Engage in Activities
    Engaging in simple, familiar activities, such as folding towels or sorting objects, can provide a sense of purpose and connection.
  8. Maintain Eye Contact
    Maintaining eye contact can make your interactions more personal and meaningful. 
  9. Be Patient and Reassuring
    Your loved one may become frustrated or upset due to communication barriers. It’s essential to stay patient and offer reassurance through your presence and actions.
  10. Reflect on Past Memories
    Even if your loved one may not remember recent events, talking about past memories can sometimes spark recognition and provide comfort.

The Advantage of a Memory Care Community

If your loved one is living in a memory care community, your family will have the added benefit of the knowledgeable and specially trained staff for guidance in how best to connect and communicate.

Each individual reaction to Alzheimer’s can be different. What works for one person may not be effective for another. But the community’s resources can provide suggestions and support to try different methods to discover what seems to bring comfort and reassurance to your loved one.

Memory care communities help families realize it is their presence that genuinely matters. Family and friends may feel uncomfortable with silence and worry they are causing their loved one to feel uncomfortable as well. However, the love and caring expressed by their presence will be felt, even if it cannot be verbally acknowledged.

At Presbyterian Village North, we support both the individual and the family as they navigate the dementia journey.

We focus on the quality of life for our residents with a staff specially trained in the best practices of dementia care. Residents make their homes in private apartments while benefiting from the daily interactions with others and participating in our exercise, music, art and cognitive therapies.

We also provide the following services:

  • Chef-prepared cuisine—3 meals per day with varied, all-day dining options
  • Security system in all buildings ensures protection and safety
  • Secure entry/exit/windows in our Memory Support neighborhood
  • Secure Outdoor Patio in our Memory Support neighborhood
  • Safety checks every two hours as needed
  • Emergency call system with pendant
  • Escort assistance as needed to and from dining and activities
  • Convenient access to mobile healthcare services onsite including dental, podiatry, optometry, audiology, mobile x-ray and lab, and dietician
  • Full onsite pharmacy
  • 24/7 onsite licensed nurse

Presbyterian Village North is a compassionate resource for your loved one and your family. Please call 214-355-9015 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personal visit to our community.