Dec 12, 2012

How To Communicate with Alzheimer's Patients During the Holidays

The Holiday's are a time to remember the memories of years gone by. So let's just agree it is all about memories, and not about memory.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

How To Communicate with Alzheimer's Patients During the Holidays
The holidays are here and the Internet is chock full of advice and tips on how to handle your Alzheimer's patient during this period.

I feel like my head is going to explode. Reading all this stuff is enough to give you a headache.

So here is my simple approach to communicating with a person who is deeply forgetful.

First up, forget about memory and start thinking memories. Alzheimer's patients can't remember what they just ate. But you might be surprised to learn they have very good memories. Yep.

So let me ask you. Do people ever start whipping out old pictures and then laughing at them during the Holiday's. You know that picture of me running around naked when I am like 2 years old. Everyone seems to think that picture is very funny.

Or, how about the picture of me they call the care package, the one where I am so skinny that my ribs are sticking out.

Holidays are often used to remember the past. Not remember, remember the memories.

Get the pictures, or videos or movies out.

If you start laughing so will your Alzheimer's patients.

How do I know this? Because you are going to put them in the WayBac machine. And once they go Waybac, they will act Waybac. Well maybe not as animated as you and me, but more animated than usual.

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Some people asked me, how should I talk to Dotty? This one was very simple. With your mouth. Give me a break. I am feeling kind of feisty today.

The real answer on how to talk to a person with Alzheimer's goes like this.
  • Smile.
  • Hold their hand.
  • Let them do the talking.

Let them do the talking. Whew. Most people know how to talk, but are not very good at listening.

Go with the flow.

My sister Joanne was very good at going with the flow with Dotty.

For example, Dotty would start complaining about her Volkswagon and how she needed to get it fixed so she could start driving herself around and get a job.

So Joanne would start discussing the VW with Dotty and then offer to help her get it fixed tomorrow or next week. Dotty seemed to accept this.

By the way, did I mention that no one had seen that VW in 30 years? That Dotty hadn't driven a car in nine years. And, that Dotty had not worked in about 15 years.

Go with the flow.

Once in motion the Alzheimer's patient will stay in motion.

When deciding what can and will work with an Alzheimer's patient think about what they liked to do at family gatherings in the past. Sit out in the kitchen and yak? Play games? What did they do. There you go, just do it.

Forget about memory for the day. Does it really matter whether an Alzheimer's patient can remember a name or face? Does it?

What does matter is the look on the persons face that they can't remember. Is the person they can't remember smiling? If so, guess what, they know them.

Ever hear of the designated driver? Well, if your Alzheimer's patient gets tired, get a designated napper. Have the person lead them into a bed room and lay down in the bed with them and, Do What? Yak until they fall asleep.

Some people complain that Alzheimer's patients get mean or narly when there is too much noise. So let me ask, if you put them in a place that is noisy and they get bent out of shape, who's fault is it? Their fault, or your fault? I'll let you answer this one.

I know someone is going to say, if you know one Alzheimer's patient you know one Alzheimer's patient. Well this is probably going to hurt someone's feeling. That is an excuse. An easy way to place the blame on someone else, usually the Alzheimer's patient.

As should be obvious, Alzheimer's patients are in different stages of progression of the disease. So it should come as no surprise that sometimes you have to think beyond the obvious and tailor make your own program - agenda so to speak.

Most Alzheimer's patients are loving, caring and sweet. Like you and me they just want to have fun.

Let me ask you. Does a 2 year old have the same needs as a 25 year old? Would you leave the 2 year old home just because they might cry a lot?

You have to adapt to the situation.

You must look at the situation from the perspective of the Alzheimer's patient.

You must look from their eyes and resist the temptation to make it all about "you".

Smile. Bring out the memories. Listen respectfully to the tall tales. Laugh among yourselves.

Assume going in that everyone is going to have a good time, including the person living with Alzheimer's.

Have realistic expectations. It will never be like it once was. But, it will be better than you might imagine if you resist the temptation to think negatively.

Its gonna be a great day. Smile, touch, memories, kitchen, yak. Keep it very simple.

You are going to feel good about yourself when it is all said and done.

Just you wait and see.

Try it and let me know after the Holiday's.

I know you can do it.

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Bob DeMarco
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