Loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s understandably feel vulnerable. Depending on the extent of the illness, they may not have a full grasp of where they are or what is happening around them. Memory loss not only leaves people in a state of anxiety and fear but has devastating consequences on relationships.
Warm and caring communications is one way to help bridge the gap between what Alzheimer’s patients are experiencing with your role as a caretaker. Here are five communication strategies to help make a connection.
- Focus on the patient’s feelings at present. For people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the here and now is what they have. Their short-term memory doesn’t allow them to remember things, even if it is as early as this morning. Their moods can change abruptly, and they may be content one moment and then frustrated the next. If they are happy, how can you help them continue that feeling? If they are upset, how can you mitigate it? It’s essential to focus on their emotions in the present no matter how quickly they pivot or how unexplainable the feeling might seem. They could be lashing out because they are having difficulty explaining their confusion and are fighting themselves while trying to remember what they no longer can. However they may feel presently, be patient and respond calmly. Validate their feelings and help them navigate through it.
- Use uplifting words. Many Alzheimer’s patients respond negatively to being treated as invalid and unable to take care of themselves. They don’t see that they are suffering from a disease, and because their memory is impaired, they may not understand why caregivers are fussing over their actions. Did you eat breakfast this morning? Did you take your medicine? These questions could be interpreted as condescending. Patients may respond, “Yes,” because in their minds they are an adult, so of course, they can take care of themselves. Their response to your question is based more on a feeling than fact. To combat these feelings, use positive reinforcement and language to make them feel valued, not patronized.
- Memory Magic. It is surprising what can surface from a patient’s long-term memory. Ask your patient to tell you a story from their childhood or recount a memory. Digging into old memories is a great mental exercise, and the sharing of memory helps people feel like they have something valuable to add to a conversation.
- Humor makes things better. Laughing and smiling has terrific benefits for the mind and body. Where possible, inject smiles and humor into your loved ones’ routine. Even though your loved one is losing his or her memories, their feelings and emotions are genuine. Keeping situations light and finding opportunities to share a smile is an excellent way to connect and reinforce trust.
- Engage the senses. One way to interact with someone with impaired memory is by stimulating their other senses. What pictures, movies, or images would they like to see? What would they want to smell? Taste? Hear? Play them familiar music, give them their favorite snack, put on their favorite perfume, or encourage them to touch their cherished possessions. Using the senses to engage with someone is one way to stimulate their attention, encourage conversation, and relate to something familiar. Just don’t overdo it.