Six Things Not to Say to Someone with Alzheimer's Disease

Communicating with someone with Alzheimer's disease can be challenging. They may find it difficult to express themselves or understand what you're saying to them. And you may feel frustrated if the person isn't responding to you the way they used to. 

It's important to remember that language can help and hurt– and that healthy communication is important to making someone with Alzheimer's feel safe and comfortable. So here are six phrases that are best to avoid in conversation with someone with Alzheimer's disease. 

1. "Do you remember…?" 

It can be tempting to try to jog someone's memory, but asking a person with Alzheimer's if they remember an event or a person is more likely to make them feel frustrated or embarrassed. The person may also feel patronized, like you are testing them.

Instead, try telling them about your own memories of shared experiences. That way they can join in if they want.

2. "I already told you that."

You may feel frustrated repeating the same information over and over again. But telling someone with Alzheimer's disease that you have already told them something isn't going to help them remember the information.

Instead, try to stay calm and answer their questions patiently. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or upset, take a break from the situation.

3."They died."

A person living with Alzheimer's disease may have forgotten that someone in their life has died. So if you remind them, they may react as if they are hearing it for the first time and grieve the loss all over again. This can be extremely painful.

Don't avoid talking about the deceased person, but encourage your loved one with Alzheimer's to talk about them. It may be comforting for your loved one to share their memories and feelings about the person they are asking about.

4. "You're wrong."

Arguing with someone living with Alzheimer's disease is not helpful or productive. Telling them that they have misremembered something is likely to cause them distress or remind them of their condition.

Instead, stay patient and calm. Try changing the subject to something positive, so you avoid disagreement.

5. "You seem fine to me."

If someone tells you they have received an Alzheimer's diagnosis, it's important to accept the news and validate their emotions. Telling the person that they seem fine or don't look unwell doesn't help them come to terms with their new reality.

Instead, Sarah Hornback, who's husband Paul was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, said in the Alzheimer's Podcast that she found it most helpful when people in her life made specific offers to help, like grocery shopping or transporting Paul to his doctor's appointments.

6. "Let's go grocery shopping, and then we'll have some lunch, and afterward we can visit your sister."

Long, complicated sentences can be difficult for someone with Alzheimer's to follow. They may feel overwhelmed and confused by the information.

Instead, keep things simple. In the Alzheimer's Podcast, speech and language therapist Sandra Robinson says it's best not to use too much complex language. But on the flip side, don't patronize or talk down to the person with Alzheimer's disease– treat them with dignity. 

Learn More

You can find resources and more information about communicating with people with Alzheimer's disease here

To listen to the Alzheimer's Disease Podcast, click here!