After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia related disease, a loved one will eventually start losing their communication skills, some diseases more than others. As a caregiver you need to adjust your speaking techniques throughout the disease, adapting to changes as they occur.
Learn to face the patients directly, talking to them as if they’re reading your lips. I’ll be the first to admit I was guilty of saying something to my dad as I was walking into another room, only to have to return and speak in a more direct manner, making sure he clearly understood me. Eye-to-eye contact is crucial.
Be patient with them and yourself. This matter gets very frustrating and tiresome. Learn to stay away from subjects that might upset them. I will not make a list of subjects to avoid as this is unique to each individual. You will know which ones they are. If you don’t, you’ll quickly figure them out by the responses you get as time goes by.
In some of the more orthodox crime detective practices of solving mysteries, trained investigators are taught to always concentrate on asking the five W’s: who, what, when, where and why. As a caregiver you will soon discover that your daily routine involves the perpetual task of solving many mysteries. But, on the other hand, these are also five words you will want to refrain from using at certain times.
Common sense should be telling you when to back away from any questions which are incorporated with the five W’s.
- Who are you upset with?
- What do you think you’re doing?
- When are you going to wash up?
- Where do you think you’re going?
- Why are you crying?
There are many other letters in the alphabet besides W’s to worry about. The point being, when you see that they are already having difficulties don’t begin making inquiries that you know they probably won’t be able to answer, likely causing further turmoil. Just use the five W’s as a rule of thumb to hold in abeyance in the back of your mind.
The short-term memory will gradually dissipate from those living with dementia. Whatever happened just a few minutes ago never occurred in the mind of these victims. However, the long-term memory hopefully survives until the latter stage of the disease.
My father’s memories of his many siblings and buddies from the past always seemed to remain fresh for many years. This has me believing that if old friends are still available, any social interaction with them, even if it’s just a weekly phone conversation, could be very therapeutic, possibly helping to keep your loved one’s long-term memory and communication skills viable longer.
Caregivers should make it their goal to maintain patients’ verbal abilities extending as far into the disease as feasible. Once they stop speaking everything else begins accelerating downhill from that point.
Do what you can to encourage quiet social visits or phone conversations with figures from the past. They may hang up the receiver, instantly forgetting whom they just talked with, but the mental exercise of that conversation just might keep their long-term gears turning. You’ll want to stay within earshot of the confabulation just in case they begin to become flustered.
A fellow caregiver explained to me that her mother is constantly asking if she can move back to her hometown. Her mom believes that everything would go back to the way things were 40 some years ago and she would be living the same lifestyle of her younger days. Now we all know this is not possible, but what would be the harm in letting her exchange 15 minutes of friendly chitchat, reminiscing with an old sidekick from the days she can still remember.
Bottom line here, we need to keep these people talking.