Posted .February 05, 2016
Taking care of aging parents can be a daunting task, and trying to navigate the blurry world of Alzheimer’s makes it even harder. It can be frustrating and heartbreaking to watch someone you love struggle to remember how to do simple tasks, or information and people they’ve known and loved their entire lives.
When speaking to someone with Alzheimer’s, it is important to remember that although they may not be able to remember, they most certainly still feel. Which means a simple question or correction could cause them embarrassment or cause them to feel hopeless, helpless and alone. Here are 5 things you can do (or not do) to make conversations with your loved one more enjoyable for both of you.
Don’t correct them if they say something wrong: If they are alert enough to realize they called their grandson Charlie instead of Michael, or they tell a story about when they lived in Iowa when they lived in Ohio their whole life, just let it go. They’ll realize their mistake and possibly correct it themselves. If they don’t correct the mistake, you know what they are trying to say and can let the slip up go. Allow them to save face instead of correcting everything they say.
Don’t ask them if they remember: By now, it’s obvious that remembering things does not come easy to someone with Alzheimer's. Instead of asking, “do you remember what we ate last time I came over?” opening up an opportunity for them to realize, once again, that their brain is failing them, reword the question. Use statements instead, like “Last time we got together we had Mexican food and it was so good!” This will allow the person to be active in the conversation without feeling embarrassed about not being able to remember it.
Don’t Bring Up Hurtful Topics: The death of a loved one or a sad time in someone’s life is hard enough to deal with once, imagine having to feel that shock and pain over and over again. Don’t bring up a lost loved one or ask if they remember the person, it will just lead to heartache. However, if they ask about a friend or spouse or family member who is deceased, it’s important to give an honest answer. If they seem to get very upset, carefully direct the conversation to something happier and more positive.
Don’t Be Condescending: All too often, people caring for loved ones with dementia will resort to speaking to the patient more like a child than an adult. They’ll use exaggerated facial expressions, sing-songy tones and sometimes even “dumb down” their vocabulary. These senior citizens are adults, not babies, and speaking to them like a baby can be hurtful and disrespectful, and can cause the person to shut down and not want to communicate.
Don’t Talk About Them Like They Aren’t There: Imagine if every time someone walked into your room, they asked someone else how you were feeling, what you ate that day, what you like to do, etc. It would make you feel invisible. Don’t let visitors talk about your loved one while they are right there. Instead, encourage them to ask the patient the questions and allow the patient to answer on their own behalf. Dementia can be a very lonely disease, and having people talk about you instead of to you can make it worse.
Being a caregiver is not easy, it can be a demanding and thankless job. But it is one of the most important jobs in the world, and it means so much to the people you are caring for. The most important thing you can do as a caregiver is remember that this person is your loved one, who is suffering from dementia. Dementia is not who they are or have become.