Apr 22, 2015

KISS Tips for “Simpler” Communication For People With Alzheimer’s

Angie spoke (to her grandmother living with Alzheimer's) very deliberately and in short sentences. Her voice was strong, and her words were well enunciated. Mom would have been proud of her granddaughter for her thoughtful prosody. I know I was and admired the effort Angie put in to maximize her grandmother’s comprehension.

Tips for Simpler Communication For People With Alzheimer’s  | Alzheimer's Reading Room


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By Elaine C. Pereira
Alzheimer's Reading Room

KISS - an acronym for "Keep it simple, stupid" - was used as a design concept by the US Navy in 1960. The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated, therefore unnecessary detail should be avoided.

And how might this concept apply to your loved one with dementia? The KISS principle.

The “It” in KISS is communication. Keep “Language” Simple, Stupid.

Humans are the only species that uses meaningful, reciprocal communication. Dolphin sonar and chimp signing are impressive, but they don’t count. And a ritualized exchange like a mutual greeting - “Hi. How are you? I’m fine” - is not genuine language. It’s a conditioned habit.

Language is a phenomenally complex skill. The interplay of Hearing what is said, Processing the message, Formulating a response and Executing it literally occurs in nanoseconds.

As Alzheimer’s is a real neurological disease - and other dementias may be caused by neurological problems such as a brain injury – communication along with everything else is compromised with advancement of the disease.

Blah! Blah! Blah! Too Many Words



Women speak about 20,000 words a day, 7,000 for men. That’s a lot of words! And Americans engaged in conversation at a rate of 110–150 wpm. That’s a lot of words per minute!
Imagine
Listening to someone for 1 minute.
Processing approximately 150 words.
Formulating a reply.
Responding appropriately AND
Repeating those steps with brain damage!
No wonder people with Alzheimer’s don’t answer questions promptly, are slow to follow directions or not at all, fumble with word finding and misuse, etc. Neurologically, they can’t.

Caregivers and family of the individual with Alzheimer’s, need to simplify their communication and supplement with relevant gestures.

KISS Communication Tips:
  1. Use simple, clear words and less of them.
  2. Look at the individual.
  3. Speak slowly, not disrespectfully. No baby-talk.
  4. Give the person time to reply to one question or direction before giving them another.
  5. Don’t use slang.
  6. Don’t interrupt.
  7. Add meaningful gestures. I.E. If you want the person to accompany you, extend and open hand.
And be cognizant that people with dementia may:
  1. Need extra time to process when you said.
  2. Miss voice intonations
  3. Substitute words
  4. Say something completely unrelated to the topic
  5. Not say anything
  6. Respond non-verbally: Point. Groan. Smile. Cry, etc.
From I Will Never Forget:
Angie spoke (to her grandmother) very deliberately and in short sentences. Her voice was strong, and her words were well enunciated. Mom would have been proud of her granddaughter for her thoughtful prosody. I know I was and admired the effort Angie put in to maximize her grandmother’s comprehension.

I Will Never Forget | Alzheimer's Reading Room

Adults naturally talk to young children in simple sentences because we realize their ability to understand complex language is evolving. Similarly, but for very different reasons, people with dementia aren’t able to process lengthy, detailed sentences either.

Caregivers are Smart enough to Keep It Simple!

*Elaine C. Pereira is the author of I Will Never Forget, an Award-Winning, Best Selling memoir. She donates from each book sold to help support Alzheimer’s research.

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