How can I best communicate with someone who is in the late stages of Alzheimer's?

5 answers | Last updated: Mar 28, 2016
Jw812 asked...

Communication has been a big issue for my 86 year-old mother with stage six Alzheimer's. She tries to tell or ask me something and can't get the words out or uses words that don't make sense. She speaks very little these days. She is surprisingly aware that she can't get the words out. How much should I try to decipher what she is trying to say? I ask if she can show me what she is talking about -- sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes I try to fill in the blanks by saying do you want to go somewhere, do you want something to eat. etc. Is that the right thing to do? I can see her getting frustrated when I can't figure out what she wants. Am I asking too many questions trying to understand her? Should I just give up trying to figure out what she wants and distract her?

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.

Communication in the late stage of Alzheimer's is a challenge.  I think you are doing the right thing but do stop if she becomes frustrated with trying to get you to understand.  Showing items as a clue is perfect  and I would only keep asking questions if you think she is uncomfortable or in pain.  At this stage non-verbal communication is sometimes the only way to understand the person is trying to say.  You might say that you are not hearing well today and that you love her and give her a hug. 

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Community Answers

1019wolfram answered...

My father in the advanced stages of alzheimers gets very frustrated when he can't think of the words he is looking for to explain himself. I find that telling him I'm having trouble understanding today helps me through this. Then I redirect the conversation. I bought dad a bear that plays a rock n roll song when you push its foot. HE loves that bear. He claps his hands and all is right with the world for a couple minutes. I give my dad a kiss on the cheek and tell him it'll be alright when I am feeling helpless. It feels right at the time. take care. joan

Booda answered...

because Alzheimers patients are not themselves anymore it is very diffucult to figure out what they want or need I always try to remember what makes them the most comfortable and just do it and not ask questions as they can't articulate at this stage of this horrable illiness,I watch some of the husbands at the nursing home my mom goes to sometimes when she needs antibodics,and rehab, and the wife will hit him because he is trying to make her eat, what would be best for both of them would to step back and let one of the other caregivers have a go at it. you can't force someone to eat, people with Alzheimers get real stubborn and it is always best to redirect them and try to get them to eat a little later. The fear of choking is a natural reflex and so it is a fear for them, they just don't know how to tell you that. after a wile in the later stages it is best to avoid clear liquids and gel up their water, for some reason they start to asperate with clear liquids, My mom carried a gallon of milk over to her bed this morning, and she is so tiny and frail she has arthritis and cronic pain, also copd, I never know what I will awaken to, god bless you all this is such a thank less job, and the goverment needs to step up and provide medicaid to Alzheimers patients just like the priviate pay homes, not one Alzheimers "home" takes medicaid, and not one nursing home will take someone with alzheimers.They get away with it by calling it assisted living so what do you do when you can't afford priviate pay ? where does your mom or dad, husband or wife go ?

1019wolfram answered...

My dad is starting to choke more on water. He is afraid to swallow at times. This is getting more difficult to figure out. All us kids and mom just want dad to be as comfortable as possible. I'm tired of crying and feeling helpless. I stay at the hospital with DAD a couple nights a week and he calls out for his brother to come help him. His brother has been dead for 25 years. I don't know what to say. I can't lift him to help get him to the potty, he's wearing a diaper and hates it. He has a pee bag on. I just pray for strength to do what I have to do. joan thank you booda. I'm trying to work on smiling.

Zicka answered...

My mother is 92 years old and in a county home which, I would say, is brighter and cleaner and the girls more loving than a lot of other facilities I've been in. It is completely paid by Medicare. She was renting and didn't have a car when we had to admit her and none of us (her children) could afford to pay for her care. I am so glad we made the decision to put her there now, but when I see her every weekend now I can see the changes and know that she is in the latter stages of her disease. Her speech doesn't make sense anymore and my sister and I just agree with what she says most of the time. I feel so sad and lonely most of the time when leaving. We usually stayed 2 hours or so but now we sometimes don't make it to 1 hour. Her food is pureed now and her water has to have a gel like substance in it. She is sleeping a lot of the time we're there. However, we always hug her, kiss her, and tell her we love her before we go. She always says, (and we understand this) "I love you too" and the name is always wrong but it is either my sister or me and we're happy with that. It will be so hard when she passes. Thanks for letting me say a few words.