I have a best friend who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Since I see him periodically, with at least several weeks (occasionally months) in between, I can see the progression; and my heart goes out to him. I remember all the good times we’ve had over the years when both of us were healthy. Now I’m trying to do my best to communicate with him, and it’s becoming more difficult. If you are in this same boat, these recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Association on how to help a person with Alzheimer’s communicate may be helpful:
• Be patient and supportive (try not to interrupt the person as he or she is speaking).
• Offer comfort and reassurance.
• Avoid criticizing or correcting.
• Avoid arguing.
• Offer a guess (try guessing what the person means).
• Encourage unspoken communication (ask the person to point or gesture).
• Limit distractions (communicate with the person in a quiet place).
• Focus on feelings, not facts (tone of voice may provide clues).
When you speak with a person who has dementia, use these guidelines from the Alzheimer’s Association:
• Identify yourself. Approach the person from the front and say who you are.
• Keep good eye contact. If the person is seated or reclined, go down to that level.
• Call the person by name. It helps orient the person and gets his or her attention.
• Use short, simple words and sentences. Lengthy requests or stories can be overwhelming. Ask one question at a time.
• Speak slowly and distinctly. Be aware of speed and clarity. Use a gentle and relaxed tone – a lower pitch is more calming.
• Patiently wait for a response. The person may need extra time to process what you said.
• Repeat information or questions as needed. If the person doesn’t respond, wait a moment. Then ask again.
• Turn questions into answers. Provide the solution rather than the question. For example, say “the bathroom is right here” instead of asking, “do you need to use the bathroom?”
• Avoid confusing and vague statements. If you tell the person to “hop in!”, he or she may interpret your instructions literally. Instead, describe the action directly: “Please come here. Your shower is ready.” Instead of saying “it” or “that,” name the object or place. For example, rather than say, “here it is,” say, “here is your hat.”
• Turn negatives into positives. Instead of saying, “don’t go there,” say, “let’s go here.”
• Give visual cues. To help demonstrate the task, point or touch the item you want the individual to use or begin the task for the person.
• Avoid quizzing. Reminiscing may be healthy, but avoid asking, “do you remember when…?”
• Write things down. Try using written notes as reminders if the person can understand them.
• Treat the person with dignity and respect. Avoid talking down to the person or talking as if he or she isn’t there.
• Convey an easy-going manner. Be aware of your feelings and attitude – you may be communicating through your tone of voice. Use positive, friendly facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
The director of a nursing facility in Dresden, Germany accidentally discovered a way to help patients with dementia thrive. He did it by creating a space that reminds residents of their earlier lives in communist East Germany.
Décor, memorabilia, and music all contribute to an atmosphere that evokes old East Germany. Residents who once were bedridden and others unable to function well suddenly were cheerful, more engaged, and active after spending time in the space.
And while it’s unlikely that your loved ones with dementia will find resonance with communist memorabilia, maybe decorating a room with familiar things — furniture, decorative objects, and vintage cookware and plates — from their younger years could spark something in them and bring some comfort and peace.