One of the first lessons I learned is one of the most important caregiving tips.
My first clinical experience was in the Women’s Health Center, at that time known as the obstetrics and gynecologic or OB/GYN rotation. And one of the first things the resident who was mentoring taught me was how to approach a skittish, nervous or traumatized patient.
The first step was to be sure that you were sitting lower than the patient. This means that the caregiver has to look up at the patient.
Why is this important?
It’s actually more important that the care receiver looks down on you. It subconsciously gives her a feeling of power. And that little change can make a big difference in caregiving. I’ve used it to help put patients and family members at ease. While it doesn’t always relieve all their discomfort, it can help them feel more comfortable.
Have you ever been in an interview situation where you are lower than the person interviewing you? Likely this is intentional. It makes the person interviewed uncomfortable and nervous. And in caregiving, you want to do the opposite.
In some cases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, the person with dementia may not be able to cope with feeling uncomfortable. This can lead to anger, or the dreaded word, “No!”
“No” can mean many things, including…
- “I can’t understand”
- “I can’t handle this” or
When understanding it’s not always a refusal, it’s easier to find a way around it.
In dementia it’s not usually a defiance, for which it can be mistaken. And your care partner may not be able to explain why she said no or what she means. Instead, you may find here’s something you can agree on. It may be an activity she enjoys, a favorite treat or even just saying “Okay,” and trying again in a few minutes.
If you can’t get lower than your carereciver, at least be on the same eye level so she can feel more like an equal. This can be the first step in effectively communicating in many diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
To your Happy & Healthy Caregiving,
Ina Gilmore MD
Purple Angel Dementia Ambassador
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