Communication Barriers:
What Can You Do?

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

Addressing communication barriers is extremely important. When people experience memory loss, it can not only be difficult for them to express their ideas, needs, and feelings to others, but also challenging for family members, caregivers and professionals to communicate with the person. Thecommunication barriers associated with memory loss not onlyimpede social interaction, but also can also pose safety and health risks for the person with memory loss.

Some examples of safety risks include:

  • Forgetting contact information for family members in case of emergency;
  • Forgetting directions provided by others of what to do in case of a fire or injury;
  • Not remembering the meaning of the uniforms of law enforcement or other public safety officials.

Some examples of the health risks include:

  • Not remembering instructions provided by their physician;
  • Forgetting to tell their physician about medication side effects or changes in their condition;
  • Increased stress and emotionality caused by the frustration of not remembering information and coping with the resultingcommunication barriers.

There are different ways for both people with memory loss and their caregivers to minimize these health and safety risks.

Communication Styles to Reduce Memory Loss Communication Barriers

The manner in which information is expressed to a person with memory loss can facilitate communication and increase the likelihood that it will be remembered. Some of these strategiesinclude:

  • Blocking instructions into small, single sentence statements;
  • Show and tell the person what you want them to do and then have them mimic you;
  • Speak slowly and enunciated your words. Avoid shouting at the person, as memory loss does not mean hearing loss.
  • Repeat and summarize information given to the person with memory loss. Additionally, ask the person to repeat the information back to you.
  • Summarize lengthy instructions provided by physicians, therapists, and caregivers. Ask the person with memory issues to explain their understanding of the instructions to clarify any misunderstandings.

Aids to Facilitate Communication

There is a multitude of tools one can use as an "external memory" to assist the person with memory loss to overcome the obstacles to communication. Some examples include:

  • Keep a small notebook handy to write important information and instructions to refer to when needed. Homework and ratings of compliance with doctor's instructions can also
  • Ask for written handouts or patient information sheets related to information provided at medical and therapy appointments. Have the person with memory loss read the instructions aloud to make sure they understand the information and to ask questions.
  • Use color-coded diagrams and drawings to convey information.
  • Set an agenda that outlines the goals and highlights of an appointment. This can be used in conjunction with an appointment book.

Using communication styles and tools, which engage multiple senses, serve to break down the barriers to communication.

Also visit Medication Communication

Caregiver Stress

Burdens for Caregivers

Resources for Caregivers

Home Instead Senior Care

For more information about this topic consider these resources:

A Personal Guide to Living with Progressive Memory Loss [Paperback]by Prudence Twigg and Sandy Burgener

The 36-Hour Day, fourth edition: The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life, 4th Edition [Paperback]by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins

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