The Ten Commandments: Strategies for Communication

The Ten Commandments: Strategies for Communication

Before you turn away from this blog given its title, let me assure you I am not offering religious guidance. Instead, I want to offer ten communication tips if you are caring for someone with dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease or otherwise. I take no credit for these suggestions, but because I feel each is so relevant, I want to share them with you. They were written in 1996 by Jo Huey, of the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Institute. These approaches were based on her thirty-five years as a caregiver.

  1. Never Argue- instead, agree: What a person with dementia is saying is what they think to be true.
  2. Never Reason- instead divert: Reasoning is a futile effort, because the part of the person’s brain that controls logical thinking has been hindered.
  3. Never Shame- instead, distract: Change the subject as quickly as possible, the person with dementia may not realize what they are saying or doing could be viewed as inappropriate.
  4. Never Lecture- instead reassure: Imagine how much better it would feel if you just smiled and reassured someone with dementia: “I did the same thing yesterday.”
  5. Never say “Remember-” instead, reminisce: A person with Alzheimer’s Disease, cannot remember. So, if you were looking thru a photo album, say “this looks like Phil and Sue when they went camping at Lake George.” The person may use this cue to connect, otherwise, treat the album as just that, photos of people enjoying themselves.
  6. Never say “I told you”-instead, repeat/regroup: As the caregiver, you are the priority. Take a step back, start the conversation the next day. The person with dementia will pick up on your stress, causing the conversation to be frustrating at both ends.
  7. Never say, “You can’t,” instead do what they can: Such an approach is another reminder to a loved one that they are losing their independence. As the caregiver, you are tasked with the responsibility to search for the things that a person with Alzheimer’s can do successfully. This is what we call a “strength based approach.”
  8. Never command/demand, instead ask/model: The adage that actions speak louder than words, is equally relevant to a person with Alzheimer’s Disease. Because your loved one may not pick up on your verbal sense of urgency, it is better to model behavior. For example, if it is meal time sit across from the person and take a few bites of food. They are more likely to mimic your actions than heed your words.
  9. Never Condescend, Instead Encourage/Include: When caring for someone with dementia we may tend to exclude them from conversations regarding their health and overall wellbeing as if they’re not there. Not only can this hurt your loved one’s feelings, but it can result in aggression toward the provider of care. Rather, stand or sit next to them and allow them to be a clear part of the conversation.
  10. Never force, instead reinforce: No one likes to be told they’re doing something wrong. A better approach is to start by telling them what they’re doing well. Then, gently approach what they could be doing better.

In 1996, the same year that Jo Huey compiled these strategies, Motorola came out with their Startac phone. It was the first flip phone. It offered a vibrate alert as an alternative to a ringtone. The phone was so popular that Motorola sold 60 million of these phones at $1,000 a clip. How cell phones have evolved over 26 years. But the advice offered by Jo Huey is as relevant today as it was 26 years ago. I hope her suggestions can offer guidance as you face the challenges that can accompany a dementia diagnosis.