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Caregiver Communication with Older Adults

Communication with older adults with cognitive impairment or short-term memory loss, requires unique training and sensitivity. Poor communication from family, care staff or friends can cause the older adult to become depressed, withdrawn, or even silent.

Here are some tips for communicating with older adults with cognitive or memory impairment:

1. Structure and consistency are critical with care and daily activities, stick to a routine.

2. Do not argue or debate with them.

3. Do not remind them that they are forgetting. It can cause frustration and sadness for the older adult.

4. Prompting and filling-in is appropriate. For example, you may fill in nouns for them if they are struggling to remember a name. Labeling names of items or places may help too.

Remind them of your name (for example) “Hi Dad. It’s Jacqueline.”

If he says no kidding, maybe say “I just wanted to remind you of the beautiful name you gave me.” Or “Dad, your caregiver, Sara, just arrived.”

Reminding your loved one of the name will ease frustration, without being demeaning. Sometimes, just giving your loved one a hug goes a long way. Please ask your caregiver to wear a name tag with their first name in bold and large print.

5. Do not speak about them in front of them. Please go to another room or if not possible, ask them: “Is it ok if I report a few issues today about how you are feeling to the doctor?”

It is never appropriate to speak about someone in the third person as it may cause depression or lower someone’s self-efficacy.

If a physician or medical person talks “over or through them” (in other words ignores that they are present), please advocate and correct the professional. Ageism should not be tolerated.

6. Signs and written communication are very helpful. You may want to label where the bathroom is with directional arrows, or the exit door with large signs.

7. Redirection is so important. When someone is having a hard time, try to ask them about someone or some pleasant event from their long-term memory, such as “Mom, can you remind me of what sport you played in high school?”

If you know your parent loves a sports team, you can say “How about those Cowboys?” Anything to get them off the subject or matter that is bothering them or they may be obsessing about.

Written by Jacqueline DuPont-Carlson, PhD, EdD, Gerontologist

For more questions, please contact an advisor at Assured In Home Care at (800) 925-7159.

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