Dementia/Alzheimer's Communication Tips
Communication between dementia or alzheimer residents and family members is always a challenge. As a family member, seeing someone change so drastically is hard. One day they may be more coherent, the next day they may be more confused. Each day will be different. The truth is, they are changing and new communication and expectations need to be created. Learning to go with the flow takes time and practice, but it is worth it. Letting go of some of the expectations of the past is challenging, but by doing so there can be a better relationship with a loved one in the present.
For many, especially family members, it is challenging to not want to “fix” the problem or right a wrong. We have seen a lot of tension during a family visit when a family member tries to correct a dementia resident. Someone may feel convinced their brother or mother is coming to visit, that they have an appointment with the dentist or that they have to bring a side dish to a party. No matter how many times they are told none of these things are happening, they will still hold onto it. Most of the time “playing along” or telling them what they need to hear instead of the truth will be more beneficial, prevent conflict and can help them maintain a happy demeanor.
Here are two examples:
We had a sweet man named Barry. He and his wife both had alzheimer's and lived in our home. Barry was a previous successful lawyer and would constantly struggle with feeling he had a meeting or appointment. Instead of trying to correct him we would pretend to be his secretary and say “Sir I’m sorry to inform you, but I just received a call and your meeting has been rescheduled until friday. So you can continue to enjoy the day with your wife and I will take care of everything else for you today.” This was exactly what he needed to hear, lowered his stress level and he continued about his day in peace with his wife.
Another woman named Martha would always think that her mother was going to come visit her. If we continually told her that her mother has been dead for 30 years, this would be traumatic for her on a daily basis. Instead, we would tell her that her mother had to help a neighbor all day, was out of town visiting a cousin or had gone to the store. There was no convincing Martha that her mother was dead because “she saw her yesterday.” So instead of fighting an unnecessary fight, she was told what she needed to hear to give her peace. We would then distract her with something else she loved and she remained happy. It really was that simple.
Depending on how far along someone is in their disease process with dementia or alzheimer's, different things will work for different people. Experimenting with playing along or telling them what they need to hear will give you some helpful feedback. You will be able to see what works and what doesn't. The overall goal is to keep the peace internally with each of you and unify your relationship by doing so.
It may feel uncomfortable to make up a story or tell them something that’s not true. In our experience, if someone is far enough along and is really struggling with remembering or what is reality, easing their concerns is our greatest desire. Relationships can continue to be loving and sincere when we learn to adjust our own way of communicating with a dementia or alzheimer loved one.
We wish you the best in communicating with your loved one!