If you haven’t already noticed it, there are a few recurring themes in these writings. Insure that your loved one feels safe, be patient and tolerant and most importantly remember that their behaviors are a result of a disease, specifically, Alzheimer’s disease.
I’ve mentioned in the past that you can’t reason with someone that has lost the ability to reason and that’s why my focus this week is on communication. Alzheimer’s kills brain cells and as a result, one of the many manifestations of the disease is a loss of memory. Not only will this memory loss be displayed in not remembering an appointment or the directions to some place they used to go to for years but it will also be demonstrated by their inability to communicate as clearly as they once did. Having trouble finding words or “word retrieval” and putting the right words together are just two ways this issue presents itself. Sometimes they may have trouble understanding your words, paying attention during a long conversation or simply lose track of what they were saying (or trying to say) during a conversation. As I remind my groups when I give my talks, speaking louder and slower is not going to help them understand what the mission or message is. It’s also important that you remember the role their environment plays when you’re trying to communicate with them. If you and I are in a busy restaurant, we’re surrounded by other conversations, music, dishes clanging, bells ringing and so on. Fortunately we’re able to communicate with each other because we can separate our conversation from all of those other noisy distractions. Many of those with Alzheimer’s disease are not able to block out all of those background distractions making communication even more difficult.
So now that we understand their challenges let’s talk about some of the ways to do a better job of communicating with your loved one.
-Always make eye contact with them when your speaking with them and remember to use their name. “Martha, I love that color on you.”
– Remember that they can sense emotion so the tone of your voice along with the expression on your face and your body language is very important. If your standing in front of them with a frown on your face you’ll be sending the wrong message.
-Don’t do all of the talking. Let them talk as well. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll be able to learn their language.
-If they become agitated or frustrated during a conversation it’s time for a diversion like looking at a photo album or going for a walk.
-Holding their hand while you talk to them can have a calming and soothing effect.
-Allow them to make some of their own choices. “Would you like to wear the blue sweater or the red sweater?” “Would you like the meat loaf or the chicken.” Just like with children, you give them two choices. Peas or Broccoli? Either way, they’re eating vegetables. We all know what happens when you ask what kind of vegetable would you like?
-Never talk to them in lists. “First we have to get you showered and then get you dressed and then we have to eat and then we have to…”
-Never ask, “Don’t you remember?” or “I already told you that!”
-Don’t point out their mistakes, say, “let’s give this a try.”
-Say, “thanks for helping” even when it isn’t perfect.
Finally, once again I’ll remind you to be patient and don’t be afraid to take a “time out” for yourself when you get a little frustrated. You deserve it.