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How to Answer Tough Questions From a Loved One With Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia often make everyday communication challenging. For example, persons with Alzheimer’s might repeat words or use one word when they mean another. Many individuals also seem to lack reasoning ability and rational thinking. These issues are in addition to a senior’s struggles with memory loss.

Understanding how dementia affects your loved one’s communication ability can help caregivers better understand their needs. In addition, making a few changes in how you interact with your family member can also mean less frustration for you both.

Why Do People with Dementia Struggle With Communication?

First, consider why a person with dementia struggles with communication. Alzheimer’s and other cognitive impairments affect an individual’s memory. They might not remember the right word to use or can quickly forget what they would say.

Memory loss also affects their ability to reason. For instance, a senior can forget that they now live in your home. They might repeatedly ask to “go home,” meaning back to their old house, and not understand when you tell them they are home.

Also, remember that older adults struggle significantly with poor hearing and dementia. Consequently, they might not hear you clearly, which can add to their confusion and further hinder their communication skills.

Tough Conversations With Your Loved One

Communicating with a senior with dementia is often more difficult when you need to have tough conversations with them. For instance, what do you do when a friend or other loved one has passed away? Or how do you tell your loved one that their own health is getting worse?

Some caregivers might withhold information that a loved one cannot process effectively. For example, someone with dementia might not remember certain friends or family members. Trying to tell them that someone they don’t remember has passed away might only confuse and upset them.

Some individuals with dementia might not understand their condition in the first place. Consequently, they might not comprehend when you explain their declining health. In those cases, explain changes needed to their routine in simple terms and as required.

For instance, if they must start using a wheelchair, tell them it’s so they can stay comfortable. You don’t need to go into detail about their advancing risk of falls.

Overall, remember that those with severe cognitive impairment often get upset quickly. So, use caution before sharing information with them that might be hurtful. You can even check with your healthcare provider about what information they might understand and for tips on how to have those conversations with them.

How Do You Answer Tough Questions

A senior with Alzheimer’s disease might ask some tough, emotional questions of their caregivers. As with sharing delicate information, caregivers must use caution when answering. For instance, someone might ask about their spouse, not remembering their death. They might become very agitated if you tell them their husband or wife is deceased.

To manage these painful situations, consider if there is a particular need or emotion behind their question. For example, your loved one may ask about their spouse when they need comfort or something familiar. You can offer them a blanket or snack and ask them to tell you about that person.

Above all, avoid arguing with or trying to correct them. Remember that their memory and mind just aren’t functioning as it use to. In turn, remaining calm and positive during all your communication with them is essential.

If you would like additional information about how best to help your loved one with dementia and talk about placement options, contact our team at Oasis Senior Advisors by calling us at 475.619.4123.

Oasis Senior Advisors


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Paul and Susan Doyle

Certified Senior Advisor®

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