Dec 19, 2011

Holiday Tip, Engage the Person Living with Dementia in Conversation

Joanne puts Dotty in the WayBac machine and away they go.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Holiday Tip, Engage the Person Living with Dementia in Conversation
Joanne and Dotty
The holiday season often brings with it a certain sense of "angst" on the part of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers. This is understandable.

Caregivers constantly worry that certain stimuli will send the Alzheimer's patient into a "deep dark hole" and they will be the one left to deal with the fallout.

This I understand because I experienced this first hand many times.

Here is what I learned.

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Keep it simple.

Sit back, chill, and make a very simple to execute plan. Caregivers, especially newbies, tend to think too much, worry too much, and get overly ambitious.

Think positive.

If you start telling yourself its gonna be "bad" or something is going to go "wrong" it probably will. On the other hand, if you are thinking this is going to be a good time for your loved one, well, it just might work out that way.

Thinking positive does not mean you expect everything to go wonderfully well.

There could be some problems and you might have to make a few moves. If so, refer back to "keep it simple". Don't get hung up on every little episode. It is going to go wonderfully well in the big picture as you look back.

How do I know this? Because you decided ahead of time it was going to go well by thinking positive.

Okay, here is the key to success.

Live you life, let the person living with dementia live their life.

Let it flow and let it go.

At any gathering of family and friends you will always have some allies. These are the people that look right through dementia and see the person they always knew. They don't really give it much thought, they just do it.

Take my sister Joanne. She can yak away with Dotty like you wouldn't believe it. For the most part, it seems to me just like it did 10, 20 years ago. They just yak.

Don't get me wrong, Dotty might start "talking wild and crazy". Like when she asks Joanne to help her get her Volkswagen fixed. The last time any of us saw the VW was back in 1982. Joanne agrees to help and they just segway into the next topic of conversation.

Dotty might tell Joanne that her cousin Anna is moving far away. Cousin Anna is 100 years old. Yeah. She lives in the same place. But there are elements of truth to Dotty's wild tale. Anna did move far away about 20 years ago.

Here is something else that I finally came to understand. Because Joanne just goes with Dotty's flow, Dotty tends to discuss wild and crazy things with Joanne that Dotty never discusses with me.

Joanne puts Dotty in the WayBac machine and away they go.

Main point. It really doesn't matter what wild and crazy tales Dotty dreams up. What is important is that Dotty is "yakking away".

Dotty is being engaged. Dotty is socializing. And here is the best part, Dotty becomes like a modern day version of her old self. A whacky and wild version of herself for sure. Still funny thought. Dotty can be very entertaining if you give her the chance.

Next, if you keep the person suffering from dementia engaged and "socialized up" they won't have the opportunity to go over to the "dark side".

On the other hand, if you let them sit around in the corner looking on, you can count on one simple fact, they will go over to the "dark side".

Living with a "fractured" brain isn't easy. It is easy to get confused. What happens when any person gets confused, then frustrated? They act out.

So don't let your loved one get confused. You do this by keeping them engaged in conversation, or working on some task they enjoy.

Go ahead, go live your life. Take your loved one along with you and help them to live their life.

Who knows, maybe you have someone like Joanne -- find them.

Let me tell you, when someone puts Dotty in the Waybac machine the stories can be pretty funny and fascinating.

But the real key is, if Dotty is telling her wild and whacky stories she won't be saying: "I want to go home", or, "I wish I was dead".

Instead, Dotty will be living her life.

Plug into the obvious, keep positive, and don't wait for it to happen, help make it happen.

Who knows, you might find some of those "fractured fairy tales" pretty funny and entertaining.

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Bob DeMarco
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The blog contains more than 3,261 articles with more than 402,100 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room