January 23, 2018
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How to effectively communicate with seniors affected by Dementia/Alzheimer’s

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
December 29, 2017

Anyone who is caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s understands how tricky communication with these folks can be. The biggest problem is helping them realize there is a problem. The best solution? Just give that up.

Here are some of the most valuable communication tips available today. This research comes from years of experience and decades of diagnosis. The easiest way through - is the path of least resistance. There is even a name for this approach. It is called; The Best Friend’s Approach. Home Instead Senior care for well over a decade has been the leaders in Dementia care training for Home care workers. David Troxel the author of the “Best Friends Approach,” with co- author Virginia Bell, designed the world respected training approach which all Home Instead’s CAREGivers under go for dementia & Alzheimer’s training. 

Until the later stages of Alzheimer’s and other dementia’s, your loved one can still accept family and friends as familiar faces that they mostly trust. This means it is very likely that a friend of yours, will be a friend of mine - this is how it goes.

If you are trying to introduce a new care provider, or respite worker to your care team - or if you are simply hoping to find a less conflict-oriented relationship with this loved one, leaning into the concept of introducing your elder to your new “best friend” is an excellent way to begin.

Never argue, instead - agree

There is a time-tested approach to keeping people with dementia and Alzheimer’s issues calm and even-tempered. This path of least resistance is marked by its ability to diffuse and distract emotional energies so they are not ratcheting up into anger, frustration or conflict.

Not being able to remember your family leaves one feeling extremely isolated and scared. Beginning to lose these recognition abilities is also very scary for those going through it. This is why every communication needs to come from a compassionate place.

As your beloved elder’s cognitive abilities begin to diminish, so does their ability to truly comprehend what is being said to them. The energy the words are delivered with - become the primary communication. If you are frustrated when you ask “so - are you hungry yet?” your words are likely to be met with the same emotional energy of frustration. “Do I look hungry yet?”

And on goes the cycle for feelings of frustration.

However, if your approach is based in the energy of understanding and compassion - then the response will be noted as such. Cognitive disability means cognition is damaged and it’s time to release any expectation of normal response.

If your elder seems to be frustrated - guard your energy and don’t take the bait. Respond from a place of no conflict. Never argue. Always agree. The why doesn’t matter anymore. 

Never reason, instead, divert

 Your elder has decided they need to get to Helen’s house immediately because she’s late for tea. This is a very big deal. She has never been late for tea at Helen’s. Never.

Unfortunately, Helen died 10 years ago, your elder can’t remember this - and she seems to be preparing for this outing. What to do? We don’t want to crush her spirits by telling her best friend from her childhood is dead. She may have to grieve all over again on the spot.

Instead, the best thing to do is allow her to get ready, while making sure there are lots of distracting interruptions, until at last - she has forgotten her mission and is now wanting to help 

plan dinner.

Never shame, instead distract

The family went to a public restaurant and Mom was trying to comb her hair with her fork. On some level - Mom already knows how inappropriate this is, right? Not. Her brain is no longer working properly and she is totally jumbled inside around what’s OK. Do not try to shame her into remembering her manners. It will only horrify her and cause emotional trauma.

If Mom is combing her hair with a fork in a restaurant you have two options.

1) Quietly take the fork away and distract her with something else - or

2) Leave immediately and know it is time to understand that being in public with her has some new risks.

Never lecture, instead, reassure

A lecture has an emotional tone all its own. So does reassurance. If you were lost in a world that no longer makes any sense at all to you, what energy would you want to be approached with?

Never say remember, instead just reminisce

By now you may be realizing that the word remember no longer applies. Not to breakfast, not to when she last used the bathroom, not for how long ago they showered. Now we are on a path of finding comfort and simple good feelings.

Reminiscing is a great way to offer a wandering reminder of things that used to be so, but we no longer care either way. Life is different now. We realized all our dreams, we live in a wonderful place and have many “best friends” who deeply care about us. Stay present. This is her only moment.

Never say “I told you” instead repeat/regroup

It’s that memory thing again. Remembering what you told them may never happen again.

Never say “You can’t”, instead do what they can

Nothing will cause frustration and anger faster than giving your elder a task they cannot perform. Guide your elder through a world where “they can” do whatever is needed. Be sure to be a cheerful helper if this makes them feel too dependent.

This is a labor of love. Get a caregiver or helper if you cannot stay in a positive frame of mind.

Never command/demand, instead ask and model

Never condescend, instead encourage

Never force instead, reinforce

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She would love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.