Caring for a loved one with cognitive memory impairment poses many challenges for families and caregivers. People with dementia from conditions such as Alzheimer's and related diseases have a progressive biological brain disorder that makes it more and more difficult for them to remember things, think clearly, communicate with others and take care of themselves.
Improving your communication skills will help make caregiving less stressful and will likely improve the quality of your relationship with your loved one--whether the person is living at home or in a memory care community. Following are several approaches you can use to communicate with someone with Alzheimer's:
- Give short, one sentence explanations. Use the names of people and places instead of pronouns (he, she, they) or abbreviations.
- Allow plenty of time for comprehension, then triple it.
- Use facial expressions, tone of voice and physical touch to help convey your message and show your feelings of affection.
- Repeat instructions or sentences exactly the same way. Break down activities into a series of steps, which helps to make tasks more manageable.
- Agree with them or distract them with a different subject or activity. If your loved one becomes upset or agitated, try changing the subject or the environment.
- Leave the room, if necessary, to avoid confrontations. People with dementia often feel confused, anxious and unsure of themselves. Further, they often get reality confused and may recall things that never really occurred. Avoid trying to convince them they are wrong. Stay focused on the feelings they are demonstrating and respond with verbal and physical expressions of comfort, support and reassurance.
- Remember the good old days. Many people with dementia may not remember what happened 45 minutes ago, but they can clearly recall their lives 45 years ago. Try asking general questions about the person's distant past--this information is more likely to be retained.
Above all, be patient, cheerful and maintain your sense of humor. And, remember, you are not alone. There are several support groups, including one held at Vista Cove on the 4th Tuesday of every month, as well as other resources in the community that can help. One such resource is the Meaningful Conversations program offered at Alzheimers Coachella Valley. For more information, contact ACV at 760.776.3100.