Dementia is not a specific disease; it is a term used to describe several different diseases that interfere with the way the brain works.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It proceeds in stages over months or years and gradually destroys memory, reason, judgment, language, and eventually the ability to carry out even simple tasks.
Alzheimer’s has the unusual distinction of being the illness that Americans fear most — more than cancer, stroke or heart disease. This fear is understandable, as this incurable condition is often thought of as “robbing individuals of their identities” and causing our loved ones to “fade away.”
Recent research, however, suggests that these negative narratives are mistaken. People with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, can retain a sense of self and have a positive quality of life, overall, until the illness’s final stages. Their abilities may change, but inside they are the same people. They appreciate relationships. They’re energized by meaningful activities and value opportunities to express themselves.
Communicating with a Person with Alzheimer’s
People with Alzheimer’s and related diseases have difficulty remembering things, thinking clearly, and communicating with others. Improving your communication skills will help make caregiving less stressful and will likely improve the quality of your relationship with your loved one.
- Maintain Your Sense of Humor
Use humor whenever possible, though not at the person’s expense. People with dementia tend to retain their social skills and are usually delighted to laugh along with you.
- Always Set a Positive Mood
Your attitude and body language communicate your feelings and thoughts stronger than your words. Use facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical touch to help convey your message and show your feelings of affection.
- Be Sure to Get Their Attention
Limit distractions and noise – turn off the radio or TV, close the curtains or shut the door, or move to quieter surroundings. Address them by name, identify yourself by name and relation, and use nonverbal cues and touch to help keep them focused.
- State Your Message Clearly
Use simple words and sentences. Ask simple, answerable questions. Speak slowly, distinctly and in a reassuring tone. Refrain from raising your voice higher or louder; instead, change your pitch to a lower, deeper voice.
- Break Down Activities into a Series of Steps
This makes many tasks much more manageable. If the going gets tough, distract and redirect. If they become upset, try changing the subject or the environment.
- Remember the “Good Old Days”
Remembering the past is often a soothing and affirming activity. Many people with dementia may not remember what happened 45 minutes ago, but they can clearly recall their lives 45 years earlier.
Alzheimer’s can often cause mood swings and even change a person’s personality and behavior. Some of the greatest challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia are dealing with the personality and behavior changes that often occur. Try to meet these challenges by using creativity, flexibility, patience, and compassion. It also helps not to take things personally.
You cannot change the person. They have a brain disorder that shapes who they have become. When you try to control or change their behavior, you’ll most likely be met with great resistance.
- Always Check with the Doctor First
Behavioral problems may have an underlying medical reason: perhaps the person is in pain or experiencing an adverse side effect from medications. There may be some medication or treatment that can assist in managing the problem.
- Try to Accommodate the Behavior Instead of Controlling the Behavior
For example, if the person insists on sleeping on the floor, place a mattress on the floor to make them more comfortable.
- All Behavior has a Purpose
People with dementia typically cannot tell you what they want or need. They might do something, like take all the clothes out of the closet on a daily basis, and we wonder why. It is very likely that the person is fulfilling a need to be busy and productive. Always consider what need the person might be trying to meet with their behavior – and, when possible, try to accommodate them.
- All Behavior is Triggered
It doesn’t just occur out of the blue. It might be something a person did or said that triggered a behavior or it could be a change in the physical environment. The key to managing difficult behavior is being creative and flexible in your strategies to address a given issue. Try a different approach or try a different consequence. What works today, may not tomorrow.
The Alzheimer’s Association has created many different resources to help you answer any questions that you may have. Click Here to see a list of the available FREE publications.