When we think about Alzheimer’s Disease, we often focus on the physical and cognitive changes that occur as the disease progresses. But what about the emotional and social changes that happen as well?

Communication is one of the most powerful human connections we have. When it’s impacted by Alzheimer’s, the ripple effects can be felt by everyone involved.

So let’s talk about how Alzheimer’s affects communication and what we can do to support those who are impacted.

First, it’s important to understand that Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that attacks the brain. The brain is complex. It’s composed of an interconnected network of cells called neurons that receive, process, and send information to all parts of the body. These neurons work together to perform complex tasks, like coordinating leg movement and breathing while jogging, recalling information to answer a question, or understanding written text while reading. However, in individuals with Alzheimer’s, this coordination is disrupted, resulting in cognitive decline and cell death. As the disease progresses, individuals may have trouble finding the right words, repeating themselves, or following conversations. This can make communication incredibly difficult for the person with Alzheimer’s and those around them.

Communication is not limited to just the words we speak. It’s also about the thoughts and feelings we express. As the disease progresses, individuals with Alzheimer’s may become easily frustrated, agitated, or confused. They may become withdrawn or isolated, making it hard for loved ones to engage with them. They may also become repetitive in their speech or have trouble staying on topic. All these changes can make communication even more challenging for them to convey their emotions.

When communication is impacted, so is connection. And connection is what gives our lives meaning and purpose. When individuals with Alzheimer’s can no longer communicate effectively, they may become dependent on others for basic needs, feel isolated and lonely, and lose their sense of purpose. Late psychiatrist Viktor Frankl best summarizes this ennui by stating, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

So how can we support those impacted by Alzheimer’s and their communication?

To start, we can educate ourselves on the disease and the changes that occur. We can also work with speech-language pathologists, primary care physicians, neurologists, and occupational therapists who can provide interventions to improve communication and language skills and strategies to compensate for cognitive decline. Additionally, organizations like the Aphasia Institute offer free online courses to individuals seeking tools to communicate with their loved ones with early dementia.

But most importantly, we can approach communication with empathy and compassion. We can remember that it’s not just about the words we say but also about the emotions and behaviors we express. We can be patient and understanding and work to create a sense of connection, even when communication is difficult.

In short, Alzheimer’s Disease can have a profound impact on communication, but by understanding the changes that occur, working with professionals, and approaching communication with empathy, we can make a real difference in the lives of those impacted by the disease.