How to Approach a Person with Alzheimer's

Brenda Avadian, MA Written by Brenda Avadian, MA
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Dementia Caregiving | Author | The Caregiver's Voice

When visiting a loved one with middle-stage Alzheimer's, family members are initially shocked when they are treated with indifference or worse, ignored. This is because as Alzheimer’s disease progresses it steals away a person’s memory, sense of location, and time. Neuron by neuron, Alzheimer’s takes away a person’s life history one sentimental memory at a time.

Approaching Someone With Alzheimer's

To avoid this shock…

When approaching, make sure you learn what is on the person's mind.

You can't just bound into the room, greet him/her jovially and expect a "Sweetie-am-I-glad-to see-you" gleam in his/her eye!

You're more likely to get the "Who-the-heck-are-you?" glare if s/he looks at you at all.

What else can you do to avoid being ignored?

  • Approach slowly.
    Wait for the person to be aware of your presence.
  • Make sure your eyes meet.
    You want the person to see you.
  • Smile.
    The person will feel that you are a friend. Barbara Gaughen-Muller, Caregiver of the Month, explains, "Nothing lifts the heart as easily as a smile. And it's free!"
  • Use the person's name then introduce yourself and state your relationship (wife, husband, son, daughter, sister, brother, friend).
    Sometimes, the person may act surprised and exclaim, "I know who you are!"
  • Start by asking a simple question.
    WAIT for a response. Be patient. Ask the initial question differently if you don't receive a response or change the subject.

As Alzheimer’s takes its toll, we struggle more to learn about the world our loved ones live in.

One day, about a year after my father had been living in the nursing home, he was irritated when I approached.

"Hi Mardig!" (We called him by his first name, Martin, in Armenian.) "How are you?" Feeling uncomfortable by how he was looking at me, I introduced myself. "I'm Brenda, your daughter."

Looking at me sternly, he said, "You're LATE!"

For what? I had NO IDEA!

"Are you with me or not?" he demanded.

Trying to be agreeable, I retorted, "I'm with you!" What could he be talking about?

"Well c'mon then. Let's go!"

"Uh, okay... you lead."

Would you believe -- No, you wouldn't; how could you? -- he wanted me to join him and his English Countrymen to fight the war?

And here's the funny part--He's Armenian! He's never been to England!

Being cooperative, I accompanied him through the secure doors into the lobby where we waited for the train to take us to England. How would be accomplish this from a nursing home in California?

When visiting a person with middle-stage Alzheimer's, first establish a connection through eye-contact, smile then learn what the person is thinking in order to have a more meaningful experience.

Brenda Avadian, MA
Caregiver for Alzheimer's / Dementia Expert Spokesperson, Coach, and Author

Updated: Apr 11, 2012


[2] Comments... Read them below.
John Esparza On Jun 9, 2013
This doctor knows what he's talking about!.Ai know because I am living the life that he is describing.,

Ben D On Sep 17, 2012
Hi I am Physician, my specialty is Neurology. This is very good information. How ever be advised that - during the advancement of Dementia, patients can become emotional and frustrated because there are parts of there brain that also remember and are aware of what is going on, but they can not process any of it and it becomes frustrating so the patient may become combative. So be careful - approach with caution. There really is no official answer. Just use your wise judgment , get involved in support groups and talk to the treating Neurologist. There are quite a few types of Alzheimer's and Dementia. And other illnesses that are triggered off. Also consider the basic principles and belief system and personality your loved one has, just reflect on the past years when before diagnoses, see your loved one in a positive light and don't over analyze. One of the methods that is help full both for you and your loved ones is - FOR YOU - see them in your mind when they where at there best. This gives you a very positive feeling and also allows you to see the things that have been unconsciously tuned and blocked out of your mind during the journey of this illness. Your best information are from support groups and you doctor. The biggest mistake that causes care giver mental emotional and physical injury is - because family care givers don't get support. Good luck and blessings to every one.