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Communicating with Patients with Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Wendy is a nursing assistant in the memory care unit of Watson Care Center. She uses communication techniques provided by the Alzheimer’s Association when working with her residents.

Wendy always approaches her residents from the front and positions herself at the same eye level so that they can see her. A typical encounter would go like this: “Good morning, Mrs. Steller. I’m Wendy.” If her resident would prefer to be called by her first name or a nickname, Wendy will use the preferred name.

When speaking with the residents, Wendy speaks slowly and calmly using short simple words and phrases. When she needs a response, she waits at least to a count of five before repeating her question. Many of the residents need time to process the question and formulate an answer. While the waiting might seem to take a long time, Wendy should not interrupt; otherwise, her resident could lose track of what she was saying. Conversely, she allows the resident to interrupt her so that the resident doesn’t forget what she wanted to say.

Another important communication technique Wendy uses is focusing on and using gestures and nonverbal communication techniques. A resident’s eye movements, hand gestures, and body position can tell Wendy much. Also, the resident can observe and react to Wendy’s nonverbal communication, which can tell Wendy a lot also. Many dementia residents respond well to a gentle touch, eye contact, smiles, and a pleasant voice. If a resident is having trouble understanding the words, nonverbal communication can make all the difference.

The communication techniques that Wendy uses make all the difference in working successfully with her residents who have dementia or Alzheimer’s.

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© 2015 by Southwest Adult Basic Education

Project made financially possible through grants from:

Southwest Initiative Foundation, Marshall Community Foundation, Southwest Regional Transition Partners, Southwest Adult Basic Education, Marshall Healthcare Partners