Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and even in the early stages, communication between sufferers and carers can change dramatically. So said Carolyn Canini, a Program Director with the Alzheimer’s Association at a recent presentation designed to provide caregivers with effective communication strategies.
Canini focused on the difficulties and frustration faced by many caregivers. As well as providing guidance on a range of organizations and resources that can provide support, she also ran through a number of practical strategies that can help the 140,000 families in Virginia that are affected by Alzheimer’s.
Dementia is a general term given to describe the loss of memory and other cognitive abilities to such an extent as to interfere with day to day life. As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, in which the symptoms gradually worsen over time.
In its early stages, the disease can be mistaken for “absent mindedness” with mild memory loss, and it might not have a significant impact on overall functionality. In late stage Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, sufferers are completely incapable of participating in a conversation or responding in any meaningful way to their environment and their loved ones.
Even early stage sufferers, though, can experience what Canini calls “word salad,” where they cannot find the right word, or substitute it for another one – usually one that is completely inappropriate or even made up.
What many carers fail to realize is that sufferers usually have the same problem understanding words as they do putting them across. This means things like understanding and following the advice of their doctor can become a real challenge.
Tips for caregivers
We have all had that experience where we see someone we know but cannot remember their name. Often, we will avoid engaging with that person rather than face the embarrassment. Canini explained that every day and every meeting can be like this for an Alzheimer’s sufferer. No wonder there is a tendency to withdraw from social situations.
She provided the following dos and don’ts for easier interactions between sufferers and their carers:
· Be patient, comforting and reassuring.
· Casually introduce yourself every time. For example, while saying “It’s Dave, your son.” might sound strange to you, it can save your parent heartache and embarrassment.
· Avoid getting into arguments.
· Show that you are interested and listening.
· Don’t try to reason or correct.
· Prepare the person for what is about to happen, who is coming, etc.
It might be difficult sometimes, but perhaps the most important advice is never to forget that this is your loved one, and these are days you need to treasure, no matter what. Try to keep your sense of humor, and don’t forget that the person with dementia still has one, too.