Visiting Someone With Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease can make strangers out of loved ones as the disease progresses. Even so, they may still appreciate and benefit from visits by family and friends.

Caregivers may be used to the behavior caused by Alzheimer’s disease. For the rest of us, it takes some getting used to. You can prepare your visit for success by following these tips.

Don’t

  • Ask, “Do you remember?” Problems with memory already frustrate seniors with Alzheimer’s throughout the day. A question like this is likely to cause them embarrassment or anger.
  • Take nasty or mean things they say to you personally. This behavior is often caused by confusion, anger, or fear. They don’t mean it.
  • Argue with them. Let it go if they insist something is correct.
  • Assume they can’t remember anything. Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t rob them of all their memories, and many seniors with the disease have many moments of clarity.

Do

  • Keep your body language and tone of voice friendly and positive. It’s not necessary to speak louder than your normal tone of voice—unless you know they struggle with hearing loss. Let them ask you to speak up first.
  • Gently introduce yourself while you make eye contact. You might be certain they know who you are, but this might be an incorrect assumption.
  • Allow for silences in your conversation. A senior with Alzheimer’s may simply enjoy your nearby physical presence.
  • Speak slowly. Converse with short sentences, and stick to a single idea. Be sure to give them some extra time to respond. Go with the flow if they switch the subject—even if it’s not true or doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s often best to let them direct the conversation.
  • Ask open-ended questions. If Alzheimer’s is impacting their ability to make decisive responses, it’s easier for them when there’s no absolute right or wrong answer.
  • Talk about shared memories from the past. Alzheimer’s is known for its disruption of short-term memory. They’re more likely to be able to remember occurrences from long ago.
  • Come with a photo album or some of their favorite music. Make it an activity that engages them and gives them the opportunity to lead if they choose.
  • Offer a gentle hug if you’re certain they would permit and enjoy it.

Finally, remember that a visit may be just as stressful to a senior with Alzheimer’s disease as it is for family members and friends who are not used to being around someone who has succumbed to dementia. They may be frustrated by their inability to remember who you are. Use that frustration positively. Retell the story of a favorite shared moment. Make it new again.

Understanding dementia before you visit makes it easier for you, and for them.