Jul 18, 2018

Looking for Meaning Behind the Words

She told us that she used to want to run her head into a brick wall when her mother started repeating the same story over and over.


Looking for Meaning Behind the Words | Alzheimer's Reading Room
By Tom and Karen Brenner
Alzheimer's Reading Room

There is wonderful little tea shop that opened near us, and I have been visiting it with friends regularly.

A month or so ago, I met an old acquaintance there; she wanted to learn more about the work that Tom and I do using the Montessori Method to help people living with Alzheimer’s.

Her mother was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she wanted to get some tips on how to better help her mom.


As I was paying the owner of the tea shop that day, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and told me that she had overheard some of our conversation about Alzheimer’s.


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Her mother, too, was living with Alzheimer’s and the entire family was in great distress and feeling at a loss about how to help her mom. We talked for a few minutes, and I was only able to say a few things to the tea shop owner.


I emphasized to her that she should be in the moment with her mom, and learn to go with her mom’s thought processes as they were at that moment.

I also encouraged her to look for the meaning behind the words that her mother might say, especially when her mother repeated the same thought or the same story over and over.

I told her that sometimes people living with Alzheimer’s say the same things over and over because they can’t find the words they want to express themselves, but they need very much to share some emotion, or some memory.

I told the tea shop owner to listen carefully to what her mom said and validate the emotions or the feelings behind the words.


A couple of weeks later, Tom and I found ourselves with a few minutes to spare before an appointment, so I suggested that we have tea in the new tea shop. Tom had never been there before, and I thought he would like it.

The tea shop owner came over to talk to us about her mother and she then told us that the simple ideas that I had shared with her on my earlier visit had changed her life!

She told us that she used to want to run her head into a brick wall when her mother started repeating the same story over and over, but now she listens carefully, trying to find the meaning behind the repetitive words.


She told us that recently her mother was repeating a story about her childhood. The tea shop owner told her mom that she understood that her mother must have had a wonderful childhood, and that she must have been very happy then.

The owner told us that her mother got a huge smile on her face, and was so pleased that her daughter understood her.

It is a wonderful thing to go into a tea shop to enjoy a cup of tea and a scone and to come out of the shop knowing that you have changed someone’s life for the better.

By the way, the tea and scones are wonderful, and the owner is thinking of holding teas for caregivers as a way to help other people who are caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s.



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Tom and Karen Brenner are Montessori Gerontologists, researchers, consultants, trainers and writers dedicated to working for culture change in the field of aging. They have been published in magazines and journals both in the US and internationally.

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