One of the things I struggled with the most when spending time with my dad who had Alzheimer’s was communication. I didn’t know how to act, or what to say. Should I talk slower, use simpler words or should I speak normally? And when Dad spoke what sounded like gibberish to me, how was I to respond?
It’s a common struggle for dementia caregivers. You see the person in front of you, who looks just like the person you’ve known all your life, and then they open their mouth and say something inappropriate or bizarre. You freeze, your gut twists and you find yourself in a new world, one in which you’ve had no training or preparation.
This Communicating with Alzheimer’s guide offers helpful tips on how to connect with your loved ones with dementia. Here are some of the tips that I found particularly helpful:
- Maintain eye contact: This can offer reassurance and be a sign of sincerity and thoughtfulness. Focusing fully on a person struggling to communicate can help with understanding as well. The person may use body language to compensate for fading verbal skills.
- Don’t argue or correct: Those with dementia will often say things that aren’t true or ask for loved ones who are long dead. Some dementia caregivers struggle with the concept of white lies, but it truly is the right thing to do. My mother often tried to correct my father when he said something that wasn’t true, and it didn’t do any good. It only frustrated my father and my mother. If a person with dementia think it’s Wednesday and it’s Monday, so be it. If they want to know where their mother who has been dead for 20 years is, you can simply say they are well and on a vacation.
- Maintain a quiet, calm environment: I remember the time my parents came to see me at the hotel I was staying at, which was connected to a casino. The minute my father entered the noisy, chaotic lobby, I realized how stupid it was to bring him into that kind of environment. I chronicle that moment in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver. Those with dementia can become overstimulated quite easily and this can negatively effect their ability to communicate.
- Use humor whenever possible: I used to cringe at some of the silly things my father would say, but in retrospect, it would have been better to just laugh and engage him in whatever train of thought he was having at the moment. Humor is a stress reliever and can lift the mood, which are important for both the person with dementia and their caregiver.
What communication tips do you find work best?