“Celebrate” doesn’t seem quite appropriate when every 70 seconds a person is diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s. The fifth leading cause of death in the United States, it is the only one without a cure.
Memory Loss presents a constant challenge for communication. Studies show 90% of the words spoken to people with advanced Alzheimer’s are not understood. How frustrating.
We become strangers to each other with Alzheimer’s. Some communication skills remain. Smile. Hug. Listen. Repeat. Oh, and have a sense of humor. As L. Wittgenstein says “If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.” There will be plenty of silly times.
There is no chicken soup cure when learning to communicate with an Alzheimer’s person. A few good suggestions may help.
- Remember this is not about you…it is about the new person.
- Touch. Hug. Hold hands.
- Use short words, simple sentences. Say their name often.
- Be positive. Jump into their world and hang on. If asked about the farm left behind decades ago, report the rainfall and how well the crops are doing.
- Become accustomed to repetition. Change the subject or provide a distraction. Walk away and come back. You will get a break and here is a good chance your loved one will choose a different topic.
- Select yes and no questions. Instead of asking what would be good for breakfast, try “Would you like a banana? Coffee?” Visible rather than abstract choices are best.
- Understand where the person is in their life. Are they a five year old playing ball, working at the hardware store or taking their kids to school? Role play. When you are called Martha, be Martha. If you are the lady who sells eggs, set the price.
- Open an opportunity for a good memory. “I enjoy dancing also.” “Your husband went to the store.” “I remember you liked the beach and I brought a picture.”
- Who doesn’t like a compliment? “What a gorgeous blouse.” “I love those shoes.” “You’re looking good!”
- Be polite. Use eye contact. Redirect patiently. “Thank you for showing me the birds. Let’s see if lunch is ready.”
- Accept their fears. “I understand you are worried. Let me talk to someone about finding your sweater.”
- Offer simple choices. If they are unable to make a choice between two items, give guidance. “Would you like to wear the pink blouse? It’s such a good color for you.”
- Visit about the good things. First kisses, first cars, the fishing pond, pets, making Christmas cookies, holding a newborn baby… these are memories we all treasure.
I firmly believe people do not disappear. Deep down inside, they are still there. In the book Creating Moments of Joy by Jolene Bracker there is a powerful statement. “Alzheimer’s cannot take away what has already been. It only transfers the responsibility of remembering to those who love the one who is afflicted.” Let’s all accept this responsibility.