Caring for a parent or relative with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of Dementia can present many challenges for family caregivers. You might find it difficult to balance caregiving with other important responsibilities or worry about the future as their condition progresses. Many family caregivers also find that communication can become difficult, and this challenge can present in different ways over time.

Diagnosis and the Early Stages

When a loved one is first diagnosed with Dementia, it might be tough to talk about what will happen when their condition progresses, but it’s helpful to have plans that consider your loved one’s wishes. Things you might need to discuss include:

    • How long will they continue to drive?
    • Who will be responsible for their financial and healthcare decisions when they can no longer manage these themselves?
    • What would their ideal memory care community offer?

While it might be challenging to start a conversation about subjects that require thinking about the future, getting plans in place early could grant you both peace of mind. Your relative can feel assured that their wishes are considered, and you will ultimately know that your loved one is constantly receiving care based on their plans.

Tackling Difficult Conversations

Discussions about future care will always be challenging, but there are ways to help make sure your loved one feels as comfortable as possible and that you achieve the most from the conversation. It’s easy to distract and divert difficult conversations, so it might help to create a brief list of bullet points you wish to cover beforehand to help you stay on topic. 

Whether your conversation concerns future care plans, finances, or healthcare decisions, you might already know what you think would be best. Avoid leading the discussion too much and ask your parent or relative open ended questions. For example, instead of asking, “Do you think we should look into memory care communities?” you might ask, “Where do you see yourself living and being cared for when we’re no longer able to?” 

A conversation can allow your loved one to present their wishes and ideas so you can conclude collaboratively. By phrasing questions this way, it’s less likely to feel like you’re pushing your agenda and disregarding their opinions. Throughout your conversation, repeat their thoughts in your own words to ensure you’ve understood correctly, and keep your body language positive and open.

During the Later Stages

When your loved one is in the more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia, different communication challenges may arise. Individuals often find that Dementia can hinder their ability to find the right words to express thoughts and feelings. They may also become confused quickly or struggle to see and hear others in a conversation. These issues can cause frustration, loss of confidence, and anxiety. Family caregivers can help by learning how to effectively communicate, allowing their loved ones to express their needs and continue to feel supported.

Five Tips for Effective Communication

If your loved one is in the mid to late stages of Dementia, the following tips may help you communicate with them more effectively. Remember that everyone is different; what works for one person might be less effective for another. 

    1. Use clear, short sentences. Stick to one topic at a time, and use short sentences where possible. If your relative struggles to follow the conversation, slow down, but avoid speaking to them like a child. It can be a tricky balance, but slowing your speech slightly and speaking clearly while avoiding unnecessary filler words can make a difference. Try to stick to one topic of conversation at a time, too.
    2. Stay calm and composed. It can be frustrating if your loved one isn’t responding or understanding you. And while these feelings are natural and expected occasionally, try not to make them noticeable. Raising your voice or appearing annoyed may compound the issue by making your relative feel pressured.
    3. Give them time to respond. Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia often need a little longer to think about things and provide a response – avoid rushing them or making decisions on their behalf. Giving your loved one the time will help them feel empowered, listened to, and included in the conversation.
    4. Ask yes or no questions. If your relative finds it particularly difficult to answer a question, it might help to phrase it in a way that allows them to respond with “yes” or “no.” For example, if they cannot tell you what they’d like for dinner, you might consider their favorites and ask questions like “Would you like pizza for dinner?”
    5. Offer non-verbal encouragement. Struggling with communication can be upsetting for seniors with Dementia. Non-verbal cues and positive body language help your loved one feel calm and supported. Simple actions like facing them and staying at the same level, making comfortable eye contact, smiling, and nodding while they formulate responses may be reassuring. 

Places to Find Further Resources and Support

Communicating with an aging loved one with Dementia can be challenging for many reasons. If you’re struggling, support is available to help you navigate specific communication issues and life as a family caregiver in general.

Some great places to find support and resources include:

    • Organizations and associations like AARP, Family Caregiver Alliance, and Adult Children of Aging Parents offer online resources for family caregivers. 
    • State and national organizations like Medicare, Medicaid, and the Department of Veterans Affairs can help you determine what benefits your loved one is entitled to, guiding conversations about their future care.
    • Organizations that support individuals with neurocognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, including Alzheimer’s Association,, and Community Resource Finder, can offer tailored advice and help you find local community programs in the San Diego area (or wherever you’re located).

If you and your loved one want to discuss assisted living with a memory care provider in San Diego, we’d be happy to help. Give us a call or use the contact form to schedule a tour with one of our friendly team members.