May is Older Americans Month – How do you talk to someone with Alzheimer’s disease?

May 24, 2013

old womanA condition that affects over 5 million older people in general and 50% of people over age 85 is Alzheimer’s disease.  This is a disease that affects thinking, concentration, memory, mood and behavior. Eventually a person can lose the ability to perform basic daily activities.

Probably the most frustrating aspect of dealing with someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s is communication.  How does this happen?  The part of the brain most affected by the disease (the hippocampus) can no longer process information coming into the brain or send it out to the other parts of the brain to be stored.  The result is that the person with Alzheimer’s cannot remember beyond the most recent conversation, maybe even the most recent words spoken.  When your elder asks the same question over and over it is because she cannot remember that she even asked the question in the first place

The brain is not able to process long explanations either.  Make your sentences short and to the point.  They may not be able to follow what you are saying after the first couple of words.  Explanations that are not clear can be frustrating causing the elder to react angrily and say mean or hurtful things to the caregiver.

How do you get them to do what you want/need them to do?  Try simple instructions like, “Let’s eat.”  Let’s go.”  “Bedtime.”   If it’s time to go to an appointment simply say “Let’s go”  and take their hand.  A good rule of thumb is, fewer words and more actions.

Alzheimer’s patients are better able to follow non-verbal cues.  The most important and effective is a smile.  Who doesn’t respond to a smile?  A smile says, “don’t worry” “I like you”.  How do you respond to the mean, hurtful comments?  Smile and put your arm around them, reassure them you will always be there for them.  Show your love, acceptance and caring through gestures and gentle touch.

Go to the following link for some great advice from a person with Alzheimer’s. 

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