Are you struggling to talk to someone with dementia?
Ellen takes care of her mother Betty. Betty has mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Ellen often finds herself frustrated, trying to get Betty to do something, or in even talking to her.
Betty struggles to be independent, or as Ellen says she’s “independently dependent.” And has been even before there were any Alzheimers symptoms.
This recent article suggests some ways to communicate with a loved one with Alzheimer’s…
Ten Tips for Communicating with an Alzheimer’s Patient
February 22, 2012 3:12 PM
Do not argue with them. It gets you nowhere…
By Carole Larkin
Alzheimer’s Reading Room
Ever feel like your loved one is ignoring you or that you just weren’t getting through to your loved one? Try some of these tips to see if they help.
Tips for communicating with a mid-stage (or later) Alzheimer’s patients.
- Make eye contact. Always approach them face-to-face and make eye contact. Use their name if you need to. It is vital that they actually see you and that their attention is focused on you. Read their eyes. Always approach from the front as approaching and speaking from the side or from behind can startle them.
- Be at their level. Move your head to be at the same level as their head. Bend your knees or sit down to reach their level. Do not stand or hover over them – it is intimidating and scary. They can’t focus on you and what you are saying if they are focused on their fear.
- Tell them what you are going to do before you do it. Particularly if you are going to touch them. They need to know what is coming first so that they don’t think that you are grabbing them.
- Speak calmly. Always speak in a calm manner with an upbeat tone of voice, even if you don’t feel that way. If you sound angry or agitated, they will often mirror that feeling back to you and then some.
- Speak slowly. Speak at one half of your normal speed when talking to them. Take a breath between each sentence. They can not process words as fast as non-diseased people can. Give them a chance to catch up to your words.
- Speak in short sentences. Speak in short direct sentences with only one idea to a sentence. Usually they can only focus on only one idea at a time.
- Only ask one question at a time. Let them answer it before you ask another question. You can ask who, what, where and when, but NOT why. Why is too complicated. They will try to answer, fail and get frustrated.
- Don’t say “remember”. Many times they will not be able to do so, and you are just pointing out to them their shortcomings. That is insulting, and can cause anger and/or embarrassment.
- Turn negatives into positives. For example say “Let’s go here” instead of “Don’t go there”. Be inclusive and don’t talking down to them as if they were a child. Respect the fact that they are an adult, and treat them as such.
- Do not argue with them. It gets you nowhere. Instead, validate their feelings, by saying” I see that you are angry (sad, upset, etc…). It lets them know that they are not alone and then redirect them into another thought. For example “It sounds like you miss your mother (husband, father, etc…). You love them very much, don’t you? Tell me about the time…” Then ask for one of their favorite stories about that person).
These suggestions are excellent.
Make eye contact can be vital. Looking into her eyes can help her focus on you. And faces are important! They eyes have been described as “the window to the soul.” And for good reason.
Be at her level – or lower. Most of the time being on the same level works. Sometimes though getting lower than her so she looks down on you is less threatening. If she’s upset and getting on the same level doesn’t work, you might try getting lower. My mother didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease, but I did routinely soak and wash her feet. And to do it, I would get on the floor at her feet. It was one of the gentlest things I did, since her feet were fragile. It is also the one thing that always brought a smile to her face and she enjoyed.
Telling your loved one what you are going to do before you do it can allow her to process the information. Speaking calmly, slowly and phrasing things positively all add to the calm positive atmosphere you want to create. It makes living with someone with dementia SO much easier! 😉
Sometimes in caring for someone with dementia you need to remember to “think outside the box,” which can be a matter of stopping and looking at the situation differently.
Because your loved one may not be able to express herself, you may find yourself with a frustrated or even angry person. And it could be due to a medical condition like an undiagnosed urine infection, pain, or just frustration in not remembering or being able to communicate well.
Or it can be something else.
Sometimes you need to be a detective to figure it out. It can be the same as taking care of a young child who does not yet have the vocabulary to tell you what’s wrong.
Do you see how this happens?
It’s okay to find a solution that seems out of the ordinary. Someone with dementia doesn’t think the same way she did before the dementia.
Cues from the environment – sights, sounds, smells, and more – are not processed the same as a “normal” brain. So the conclusions can be quite different than what you would conclude.
And that can lead to…?
Yes, frustration…anger…and more.
Many negative emotions.
So, now do you see why staying calm and positive can be so important?
It can help to defuse a frustrating situation. As can humor.
Often a laugh can help break the tension. Even if your loved one doesn’t laugh with you, she can see that you are not upset. And that can help, too.
Are you feeling tried and frustrated yourself?
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To your healthy and happy caregiving,
Ina Gilmore, M.D. (Retired)
“The Knitting Dr.”
Bestselling Author of “What Do I Say In a Sympathy Card?”
Creator of A HEART PLAN