May 29, 2011

Alzheimer’s and Listening with the Heart

In the early stages of Mom’s Alzheimer’s, communication was extremely difficult...
By Barbara Pursley
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

In the early stages of Mom’s Alzheimer’s, communication was extremely difficult. Mom’s behavior changed quickly. She had always been a very kind and loving person, but now she was confused and angry. I felt sad and frightened when she would lash out at me. I didn’t know what to do.

At the time of the diagnosis, the only thing I knew was that Alzheimer’s meant memory loss.

I wanted to understand her needs, but it was as though life had changed overnight. What was normal communication became a battlefield. Between her anger and my lack of education, communicating ended up in arguments. But, it didn’t take long for me to learn that my part of communication was to accept and agree with everything Mom said even if it hurt.

Mom’s disease lasted about twelve years and it was in the very early stages that she lost her ability to have a simple conversation.

One night I left the nursing home crying because Mom wanted to communicate, but the words were buried deep within. I waited and waited for the sound of anything that even resembled communication.

I knew what I needed to do to work through my pain. Write a letter.

Dear Mom,

Your beautiful blue eyes stared at me as I tucked you into bed. Softly I asked, “Is there something you want to say?” You continued to stare with a look of love.

Your eyes were glassy and strong with emotion. I could read in your eyes that you wanted to talk, but the words were sleeping. Your face was strong with expression while we had long, silent periods of eye to eye contact. I continued to read what I thought I could see in your eyes. I sensed that your mind was in a state of confusion and your stoic stare became one of desperation. I had to hold back my tears. I knew that not even one a little word was going to surface on this particular night. My heart was sad, but I knew we would talk on another day.

I kissed you on the forehead and said, “Mom, I love you. Sweet dreams and we’ll talk at breakfast in the morning.”

Love, Barbara

I felt much better after writing Mom a letter. It was just another form of communication that gave me
an opportunity to express myself. I had to learn to listen to the silence.

I’d like to share what Mom taught me about communication.
  • Communicate eye to eye
  • Listening is an active activity
  • Have an open heart

Barbara Pursley was born in Galveston, Texas and is the author of EMBRACING THE MOMENT. Barabara attended Santa Monica College, studied photography, and worked as a commercial photographer before returning to Texas to care for her mother. Barbara also taught journal writing to women in Texas rehabilitation facilities. She put her God inspired journal entries and photographs into book form in 2009.

More Insight and Advice for Caregivers

The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: The Experts’ Guide to the Best Diag­no­sis and Treat­ment for Mem­ory Prob­lems
The 36-Hour Day A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease

Original content +Bob DeMarco , the Alzheimer's Reading Room