“Most days Mom just sat in her armchair in front of the TV with a glazed look in her eyes. I tried to perk her up by talking about what was on the news or what I was cooking for dinner, but she didn’t seem interested. With her Alzheimer’s, I’m not even sure she understood what I was saying.”

Talking with a senior woman.

One day, a commercial came on for engagement rings, and I casually asked her, “Mom, do you remember when Dad proposed to you?” Suddenly her eyes lit up, as if I had unlocked a long-forgotten memory that brought her great joy. She proceeded to tell me the proposal story in great detail, which was more than I had heard her talk in weeks. I discovered Mom retained many vivid recollections of her past, and she seemed delighted to tell me her stories. All I had to do was ask a good question.

Asking questions can spark a meaningful conversation full of special memories. Someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias will particularly appreciate the opportunity to pass on personal history and wisdom before it’s too late.

When you begin a conversation, prompt the person with dementia to elaborate by asking open-ended questions and then listen patiently. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What chores did you have to do when you were growing up?
  • When you were a teenager, what did you and your friends do for fun?
  • What are some of the most valuable things you learned from your parents?
  • What did your grandparents and great grandparents do for a living?
  • When you were growing up, what did you dream you would do with your life?
  • What accomplishments in your life are you most proud of?
  • What are some of the things you are most grateful for?
  • What was the happiest moment of your life?
  • How would you like to be remembered?

You can use these questions as conversation starters at mealtimes, while completing daily activities together, or at a family gathering. Work up to the deeper questions like “How would you like to be remembered?” and follow up with related questions to keep the conversation going. If your family member with dementia gets confused, frustrated or upset by your questions, change the subject. You can always rephrase the question and try asking it again at another time.

By asking good questions, you’re inviting your family member with dementia to share important life experiences that you can continue to remember and cherish even when that person no longer can. You’ll not only enrich your loved one’s life during the moments those memories are shared, but you’ll be able to preserve the memories until it’s time to pass them along to the next generation.

You can find additional memory-evoking question ideas at StoryCorps.org and great conversation starters for mealtimes at Caregiverstress.com.

8 thoughts on “Tips for Talking to Someone with Alzheimer’s

  • Jackie

    I am a CHHA and my specialty is to work with patients with AZ & Dementia
    I am always seeking knowledge on various ways to work with individuals
    Thank you for contributing to my knowledge

  • Roz Darby

    Very good tips when dealing with Alzheimer’s patients.

  • Darlene

    Yes listening is key when one wants to tell his/ her story. Sometimes a response is not needed. He/she only want someone to know they are here. I believe the core of the individual is still within the person. Who they were before illness. We not know why some seem to loose more of what was than another. For some of the people I support know their abilities are not as they were. And for other’s. Seems a constant battle of. I believe the people I support have their story; have a story whether is their story or their story the way they recall.For I truly enjoy doing what I do. Supporting the people I support for it is ” My Purpose” they not choose their illness. Their illness choose them.

  • Sharon kemp

    Great ideas and they work.

  • Mark Murphy

    I really appreciate your tip to try and begin your conversation with a good question to remind your loved one of their life. My grandmother has had Alzheimer’s disease for a couple of years, and I want to try and connect with her more often. I will be sure to begin all of my conversations with good questions about her life!

  • Terry C Van Winkle

    As someone with ALZ,I can say that your sugestions are great.
    Now if you could just implant into the mind of my caregiver, we would have a winner.

    • Deidre Love Sullens

      You wrote on this page/ thread and searched something of meaning to help your caregiver with yourself. I am moved by your desire of meaning and connection – I hope if you are still out there somewhere and able… that you would answer each question like it was asked of you by your loved one… just share it with us here, Please? Somewhere in the vast universe of the internet your message will be received and your memory forever prolonged. Everything is temporary, even words. But the changes made for those who hear your words, the lesson learned, the impression imprinted – those are evergreen.

  • Erin

    I would also be interested to see an article about how not to talk with someone who has a memory problem. For example, when I don’t recall something, my husband will berate me by insisting I should remember because he told me… very hurtful.

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