Yes you can communicate with a person who is deeply forgetful. Quite effectively I might add if you open your mind, open your heart, and think positively.
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room
I left Dotty with our two wonderful friends Jim and Ruth. In very good hands I might add.
I managed to make the trip to New York, spend an entire day at Pace University, and return home in exactly 48 hours.
On the flight home I realized that Dotty was going to be angry with me for leaving her "alone".
I wasn't too worried because over the years I had learned how to diffuse her anger and bring her back quickly to the here and now. Keywords: learned, diffuse.
While I was on the airplane I thought of a new and different way to deal with the problem - the simple fact that Dotty was going to be angry with me when I went to get her.
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Here is what would usually happen when I left Dotty with someone to watch her for any period of time while I was away. Even a few hours to go watch a tennis match.
When I would return she would be angry, refuse to look at me, and she would fold her arms across her chest. The folding of the arms across the chest is an involuntary, nonverbal, act that shows a person is unhappy. Folding the arms across one's chest acts as a natural communication barrier between two people.
Folding the arms across the chest can indicate: anger, frustration, contempt, suspicion, and even fear among a long list of possible emotions.
Dotty's face, lack of eye contact, and the folded arms told me everything I needed to know. It told me there was a problem and my task was to diffuse a list of negative emotions. Not always easy to do with a person who is deeply forgetful.
In this specific incident I had a new and different plan in mind.
When I arrived home from New York, I hurried into the house, threw my bag down, and quickly changed into a pair of shorts, casual shirt, and top siders.
I then headed for Jim and Ruth's.
I blew right in the door and there was Dotty sitting at the kitchen table. Yep, as soon as she saw me she got that I been dipped in poo poo look on her face (anger), and folded her arms across her chest.
I stood right in front of her, close by, and went right into action.
I started by saying, Dotty are you ever going to come home? Harvey (our repeat parrot) and I miss you. As soon as she looked up, I smiled.
I then said, Harvey sent me down here to get you and bring you home. By this point Dotty had a bit of a confused look on her face but the anger was gone. I had already diffused the anger.
I said, come on, we are going to have a big breakfast. At this point Ruth chimed in and said Dotty already had breakfast. I responded, mom, what did you have for breakfast? Of course, Dotty couldn't tell me, but Jim and Ruth described Dotty's big breakfast.
I responded, oh well, no breakfast then. Dotty did exactly what I thought she would do, she let me know she was ready to have another breakfast. I guess they call this redirection.
I then stuck out my hand, smiling all the way, and took Dotty out the door, into her wheelchair, and home. At home, I had Harvey all ready to go and together we asked Dotty where she had been and what took her so long to come back home?
For the first time in history I had managed to immediately diffuse Dotty's anger.
This was eight years and five months from the day I started caring for Dotty. It was also less than 45 days from the time when she went to Heaven.
From this episode I realized you never stop learning as an dementia caregiver. Lets just say, there are always new and better ways to accomplish the Mission.
When caring for a person with Alzheimer's there is constant change. But now I will ask you, why not make the change?
It really is all about positive attitude, the smile, and will power.
For the negativos out there that are going to try and tell me this won't work for them - God bless you.
I know this stuff works because because thousands of caregivers have emailed me and told me that you can get off the path of burden and on to the path of joy if you open your mind, open your heart, and think positively.
I wish I had thought of the communication strategy I described above sooner. I didn't.
But now I shared it with you. Maybe you can put it too good use or even improve upon it.
If so, that will be more than good enough for Dotty and me.
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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The ARR knowledge base contains more than 3,811 articles with more than 306,100 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room