Communication- Basic Skills and
This pamphlet is part of a series on dementia-related diseases. This series was prepared
by Kenneth Hepburn, Ph.D., Geriatric Research, Education and C1inical Center
(GRECC) of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Minneapolis,
Communication means getting across what you really mean and having another person
really understand it. This is not always easy under the best circumstances.
Communication with a person who has a dementing illness will be even harder The
disease will impair the person's ability to understand words, to find words to use, and to
put ideas together and hold them in place.
Loss of the ability to communicate with others may frustrate the patient with
Alzheimer's disease. The person may feel cut off from you and others. He or she
may feel a loss of control over things. This, in turn, may make the person feel
less secure and more anxious or jumpy.
Problems in communication may pose special problems for you, the caregiver.
As a caregiver, you are concerned with providing companionship, ensuring the
patient's safety and managing the daily routine. Communicating as well as you
can with the impaired person is very important to you in meeting these care
As the caregiver for a person with a dementing illness, you will need to be
aware of the person's changing and lessening abilities. You will become an
expert in figuring out the impaired person's communications. You will need to
judge when the person is or is not fully getting what you and others say. You
may well have to set up new ways of communicating with the person.
You will have to be mindful of safety. A person who cannot understand or
remember safety warnings runs an increased risk of self-injury and even of
injuring others. You must be alert to any problems such as vision or hearing loss
which might further impede communication. Finally, as the person becomes less
able to use good judgment, you will need to make all decisions for him o