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When Ed had Alzheimer’s I would often ask him what he had for lunch. Duh. That was stupid. First of all he couldn’t remember what he had for lunch. Second, he couldn’t even remember if he’d had lunch.
He’d always answer that question by saying, “I didn't have lunch.” Then I might say something like, “Did they let you sleep instead of going to lunch?” He couldn't remember that either.
“When am I going to remember not to ask him questions like those?” I’d often ask myself.
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Sometimes I’d remember; other times I didn't and so I’d plough right back into that old question: “What did you have for lunch?” I’d ask for the hundredth time.
It would have been better to ask him if he liked the food there. He would only have had two choices – and uncomplicated ones – for an answer: “Yes” or “No.”
When talking with a person who has Alzheimer’s it’s best to avoid questions whose answers are too specific (who, what, where, or when) and also avoid ones whose answers are too complicated (why or how).
For example if you ask, “Did your daughter visit you this week?” your loved one may not remember. They may not even remember they have a daughter.
The same goes for questions such as “What did you do this morning?” Again, they probably won’t have the faintest idea what they did and they may just feel embarrassed or stupid.
It’s best to let the person save face and ask, “Are you enjoying your day?” or “How are you feeling today?”
Instead of asking, “Where did you go on the drive they took you on today?” you might ask, “Did you enjoy the drive?” (This assumes they just got back from the drive and will remember they went on one.)
Why and how questions tend to be too complicated for a person with Alzheimer’s. For example, they may have difficulty answering, “Why are you in such a bad mood today?” Again, you might say, “It seems you aren’t feeling well today.”
How questions also tend to have complicated answers. An example would be “How did you find your purse?” (which she had lost). She probably won’t remember she lost her purse let alone that she later found it.
We may also forget and ask,” Where did you find your purse?” And again she may feel bad that she can’t remember.
It’s better to say, “I see you found your purse. You must be happy about that.”
This is simple advice but it’s often hard to remember. So there we go again asking questions they most likely won’t be able to answer. “Where did they have the church service this morning?” or “Why did you skip the church service?”
We have to keep reminding ourselves not to expect them to remember recent details and not to be able to answer questions whose answers are complex.
One more piece of advice is to never ask if he or she remembers something. Again this is easy to forget. (What’s our excuse for not remembering something?).
“Do you remember my name?” “Do you remember who I am?” or “Do you remember what TV show you watched today?”
Of course they can’t remember. After all they have Alzheimer’s. That’s what people with Alzheimer’s do. They forget.
It would be best to say, “I’m your daughter.” You could also say, “The Activities Director told me you watched Murder She Wrote today. I remember that show. I really liked it.”
Your memory is still intact. If you can remember not to ask these types of questions, you will avoid embarrassing or frustrating your loved one. You’ll also avoid having them shut down the conversation. Ultimately you’ll both enjoy your interactions more.
Can any of you think of any more types of questions to avoid? What’s your personal experience with asking the wrong type of question?
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