Using ‘love language’ to communicate with a person with Alzheimer’s

People with Alzheimer’s have unique needs. And although their memory robs them of the details of their life, it doesn’t take away their ability to feel love.

A Live Strong article offers ideas on how you can show a loved one with Alzheimer’s you care. The article is written by Debbie Barr, who co-authored a book with Gary Chapman and Edward Shaw titled Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade: the 5 Love Languages and the Alzheimer’s Journey.

The book is based on the “five love languages” concept introduced by Chapman in a number of published works. According to his concept, each of us has at least one emotional channel. When someone uses that channel to communicate with us, we feel loved.

Love Language Tools

In her Live Strong article, Barr shows us how we can tailor Chapman’s concept to enhance the life of a friend or loved one with Alzheimer’s:

  • Physical Touch: Expressive touch, such as holding hands or stroking the hair, or task-oriented touch, such as assisting with bathing or dressing.
  • Quality Moments: Giving someone your undivided attention because as memory fades, life is experienced only in moments.
  • Gifts: Purchased, found or handmade tangible tokens of love.
  • Words of Affirmation: Compliments or words of kindness and encouragement.
  • Acts of Kindness: Anything done to preserve a person’s dignity or make them feel useful. For example, including a person in a conversation even though he can’t contribute or asking him to “help” by folding towels.

In order to get the most out of the above tools, you will need to identify the primary love language of the person with Alzheimer’s. For help with this, Barr suggests using the diagnostic quizzes provided in her book.

Putting ideas into action

In order to demonstrate how you might adapt the love languages concept, Barr offers suggestions based on a scenario where you are communicating with your grandfather, whose love language is Words of Affirmation.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Brag about him to others while he is present.
  • Tell him you are proud of the things he accomplished in life.
  • If he asks the same question over and over, answer respectfully and patiently, responding each time as if the question were being asked for the first time.
  • Tell him that you have taken care of everything.
  • Tell him he looks handsome, even if he’s wearing the same clothes he wore the day before.

Communicating with a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be frustrating and often appears to be futile. That’s why Barr’s suggestions are so inspiring. As the late poet Maya Angelou said, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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