What kinds of communication problems do people with Alzheimer's have?

Judith London, MD

Impaired communication escalates as Alzheimer's progresses. That is why it is up to us - the people who deal with or care for someone with this disease - to make the effort to understand any efforts to communicate, verbally or non-verbally. Professionals and caregivers need to fill in the gaps and connect the dots of whatever a person with Alzheimer's is trying to express. Fragments of thoughts are trapped withing the brain when the structures between brain cells no longer function. Frustration in the ability to communicate has been cited as the overriding cause of angry outbursts.

Communication is difficult for people with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and dementia, simply because they have trouble remembering things. This means they have:
  • Trouble finding the right word when speaking
  • Problems understanding what words mean
  • Problems paying attention during long conversations
  • Loss of train-of-thought when talking
  • Trouble remembering the steps in common activities, such as cooking a meal, paying bills, getting dressed or doing laundry
  • Problems blocking out background noises from the radio, TV, telephone calls or conversations in the room
  • Frustration if communication isn't working
  • Sensitivity to touch, tone, and loudness of voices
Being sensitive to the communication challenges of people with AD or dementia is important. Be aware of your tone and body language, use touch while talking to show you care, make eye contact and be encouraging and try to remain calm even during angry outbursts.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.