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

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 Answer

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.