How do I best handle communication issues with my husband who has Alzheimer's?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 30, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My husband is the middle stages of Alzheimer's and his speech has degenerated so badly that I can hardly understand anything he says anymore. I try my very best to guess what it is he is trying to say but don't always succeed. The words coming out are either garbled or don't make sense in a sentence. I sometimes just have to say I don't understand and I think that frustrates him, so I hate to say it. However, I don't know what to really say and sometimes I just don't say anything which I'm sure frustrates him as well. I really don't know what to do. I am guessing that this is part of the progression? My aunt had Alzheimer's and just passed away this year and when I visited her she did not seem to have the problem talking when she was aware someone was around. Can you tell me if what my husband is going through normal or is there anything I can do to help? What is the best way to react when I don't know what it is he is saying or wants? Any help would be appreciated.Thank you.

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.

Speech problems are not that unusual especially if he had had a "mini stroke"; that is also not unusual for people with AD. Do make an appointment with a speech pathologist to see if they have any suggestions.

It must be very frustrating for him as I think he believes he is speaking clearly. I often take the blame in this type of situation and say that my hearing is not good and I apologise for not understanding him. That helps the person feel like he or she does not have a problem, I do.

Can he write what he wants to communicate? That might be helpful. Could you ask him to point or use gestures to "help" you.

Make sure that you are always communicating that you love him and you are so sorry that you can't hear him properly.

People with memory loss become so frustrated with their world and trying to figure out what is happening to them, loss of speech just adds to a very difficult situation.

It sounds as if you are doing your best with a tough situation.