Alzheimer’s can make talking with loved ones more difficult. Here’s some tips to make the conversations more pleasant.

1. Don’t put them on the spot.
Asking a family member with Alzheimer’s questions like “when were you born, when did you get married and how old are you is definitely a no-no. The fact is, your husband with Alzheimer’s now has a legitimate excuse for not remembering your anniversary, and you giving him a hard time about it isn’t going to be fun for either of you. A good rule of thumb is to not ask questions if you don’t have too. If you do ask a question make sure it’s an either or question like, “do you want milk or orange juice?”

2. Be patient
If you’ve ever been on a long family road trip you’re probably familiar with the groan inducing phrase, “are we there yet?” Sometimes a conversation with a family member with Alzheimer’s can feel like hearing, “are we there yet,” one too many times. Keep in mind that your family member simply doesn’t remember that they just told you that same joke five minutes ago. Be patient. Laugh at the joke again, and whatever you do don’t lose your cool. If you say something out of annoyance or frustration you will just further frustrate yourself and you will frustrate your loved one. If you find yourself getting frustrated leave the room and take a break for a bit until you are no longer aggravated. After all your mother always said, “patience is a virtue.” With Alzheimer’s it’s a lifesaver.

3. Jumpstart the conversation with familiar activities.
At Aspen Senior Center, one of our clients with memory loss wouldn’t ever talk and would only nod yes or no when asked a question. One day we got him to break his silence when we discovered Johnny Cash was his favorite singer. We played some Johnny Cash records and his face lit up and he told us all the names of the songs and sang along. He was so happy and we were too. Playing music that’s familiar or looking through a photo album with your loved one can be highly rewarding. Don’t quiz them on names and faces though. Instead tell them about the people in the photos and explain to them what happened at different events and if they remember something and want to chime in they will.

By Winston Behle

When a loved one has Alzheimer’s: Tips for having better conversations