How can I help my dad, who has Alzheimer's, communicate?

6 answers | Last updated: Dec 08, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...
My dad, who's just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, regularly struggles to find the right words. There are long silences as if he's just looking for a word but can't find it. What can I do to help him?

Expert Answers

A social worker and geriatric consultant who specializes in dementia care, Joyce Simard is based in Land O' Lakes, Florida, and in Prague. She is a well-known speaker and has written two books, one focusing on end-of-life care and the other, entitled The Magic Tape Recorder, explaining aging, memory loss, and how children can be helpers to their elders.

If your dad has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he may feel stressed when he can't find the words he's looking for. Word-finding difficulties are one of the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Just try to help in an easygoing way. Say to him: "Let's see if we can work together and figure out what you're trying to say." Talk in a calm, gentle voice. Reassure him: "I think you're just anxious. Even when I'm anxious, I can't think of the right word." Or make light of it: "It's probably on the tip of your tongue. You'll remember later."

If you think you have a gist of what he's trying to say, ask questions that might trigger what he's getting at. Even if he's using the wrong word, it can give you a clue to what he's trying to say. Sometimes people misname things. You could say, "Do you mean…" and supply the right word. But watch for his reaction—sometimes too many prompts leave a person feeling frustrated.

If you have no idea what he's talking about, try to change the subject or redirect his attention to reduce his frustration. If it seems important, you can return to the subject later and try again.

Community Answers

Chris ballard answered...

I am the patient. In recent days when I proof read something I have written (thank Heavens for computers), I notice a word that absolutely has nothing to do with what I'm trying to say. That is, I substitute a word with a completely different word. It was a blow when I couldn't crochet or cook much. But it is REALLY going to be a blow when I don't have this communication tool. I'm on Namenda and Aricept. Am I right that there's really nothing I can do to make that better? I'm wondering now if I do this when I talk and my family covers for me. They say I don't. I know I've been having a problem being understood, which I knew was going to happen, but for now it's still tough. I've been searching for words, and sometimes they just don't come to me. When I've had that happen someone either supplies the word or says they know what I'm trying to say. That helps!

Karmel answered...

Oh my gosh, I'M NOT ALONE Please respond. I thought this disease was so different. My dad can't say what he wants to,but it's there. I so I was so alone. Tks for being there.

Chris ballard answered...

No, you're not alone. There are a lot of us out here.

I can see where this would be hard for the caregiver to know what to do--it's hard on us--we get so frustrated with ourselves when we can't remember a word, or forget what we were talking about. I've often wondered if that's why so many patients quit talking. I'm gonna hang in there on that for as long as I can! I don't mind at all if someone can help me with a word--because with me if I can't figure it out, it's not going to come to me even with prompting.

This site is a good place to find answers, or at least someone to talk to if you have problems that are bothering you like this. Altho I think I'm the only patient in the group, it still helps me know I'm not alone, others are feeling what I'm feeling, or having to deal with it, like you!

Have a good Saturday! Chris

604adnerb answered...

There are other communication disorders that can result in aphasia, and wreak havoc with word-finding... such as stroke, primary progressive aphasia, etc. My mom suffers from this - speech therapy is really helpful even several years into it, when she is not easily understood. We all notice an improvement. speech therapists are trained to help focus and to preserve language capabilities - it is definitely worth a try for those who can find someone nearby.

Eitalk58 answered...

Chris, I applaude your bravery and positive attitude. It can't be easy for you. I also very much appreciate hearing the patient's point of view as I see this happening to my father. It is not easy for me to see him struggle but I am thankful he is still talking. My mom in law, now deceased, struggled to find words. She would laugh which I am sure gave her family a boost knowing she wasn't angry or sad. Hang in there, keep your mind busy, stay on the computer so you don't feel isolated. Bravo, take good care Eileen