“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” – Benjamin Franklin

When talking to someone with Alzheimer’s, over-explaining is the worst approach. Typically, what they hear is “Blah, blah, blah.”

More times than not, I observe caregivers trying to explain something to their loved one using so many words that even a person without Alzheimer’s would get lost.

Remember, sometimes any approach can fail, but I have been helping caregivers for over 15 years, and I see what works the majority of the time.

So the following are my suggestions that could change the way you communicate with your loved one.

Wrong way

“Honey, tomorrow we are going back to Memory Matters so you can stay in the program for five hours and meet some new people and do activities, because the doctor said it was good for your brain. And it might be good for me if I had a bit of time to get things done without you around. Don’t worry about a thing, because I’m coming back to get you at 3 p.m. tomorrow after the program is done. You will have fun.”

Right way

In the morning, as you both get into the car and your loved one asks, “Where are we going?” you answer, “To have some fun.” Short and sweet.

Even though you had planned to go to Memory Matters, there’s no need to discuss it the night before, as this might cause anxiety for your loved one.

All too often caregivers don’t understand that using too many words can cause the person with dementia to experience confusion and frustration, or even anger.

It is difficult for caregivers to understand that when someone’s short-term memory is compromised, he or she might not remember from one sentence to the next.

Yes, I really mean “from one sentence to the next.”

By definition, short-term memory loss means not being able to retain information for seconds. Not hours, not days – seconds.

So how can you improve communication? Switch gears, slow down and stop trying to over-explain everything. Stop asking so many questions.

Stop asking “Don’t you remember?”

Live in the moment.

Use more non-verbal communication such as a smile, a hug, a reassuring word. Not a dozen reassuring words. One or two will do.

As a caregiver, you must enter what one caregiver refers to as the “Alzheimer’s world.” You need to be more accepting. You need to fully understand that you cannot convince someone who is deeply forgetful that they are wrong, and you won’t be able to convince them that your reality is truly reality.

Remember that you are the one with the “healthy brain.” You are the one who can still make rational decisions, and you are the one who can change your behavior to help the person with dementia.

If you are caring for someone with dementia and want to learn some tools, come to one of our excellent support groups or make an appointment with one of our dementia care specialists.

Don’t try to do this alone. You don’t need to, because you have the support of Memory Matters.

Call 843-842-6688 or visit www.memory-matters.org.

Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org