Maintaining Positive Relationships With a Loved One Whom Has Alzheimer's Disease or a Related Dementia
by David Lee
Let's begin this article by saying that Alzheimer's is a cruel disease that is almost as hard on non-sufferers as it is the afflicted. This is because there is almost nothing more gut-wrenching than seeing a loved one go through Alzheimer's. I'm sorry to start off like this, but really, there's no other way to approach the subject. Those who have been through it understand – those that are going to go through it need to be strong.
Alzheimer's can take some time to run its course, and the decline of an individual may be slow. It is important to focus on this as a positive, and do everything within your power to maintain a loving and productive relationship.
Throughout the entire process, the biggest thing to remember is this: whatever the issue, it is not the fault of the sufferer. For example, if a loved one does not recall who you are at the moment, it has nothing to do with how they feel/felt about you, and it has everything to do with the disease affecting their memory. Still, a parent not recognizing a child is jolting, to say the least.
Hence, here are a few tips to help you better cope:
- Be complimentary. In the early stages, afflicted individuals often realize that "something" is wrong. Compliments make them feel better about themselves.
- Focus on the abilities that a person still has, rather than on what abilities he/she has lost. No sense saying "we can't go to the park because you can't walk that far" – it's much better to say "would you like to take a short walk to the corner store?"
- When speaking, allow ample time for a response.
- Help the memory challenged person to communicate. He or she may have trouble finding the right words. If you can, try and fill in the blanks for them (without being impatient.)
- Adapt and modify an activity they used to enjoy. As previously mentioned – a walk to the park (far away) can now become a walk to the corner store (much closer).
- Use "chaining" - have all but one or two steps of a project completed ahead of time - then ask the memory impaired person to finish the task. This will give the individual a sense of accomplishment, and independence without them having to perform the entire task from the beginning. A good example is perhaps loading the dishwasher, then having the afflicted person put in a soap tablet and turning it on.
- Establish a daily routine, but be flexible.
- To avoid frustration and/or your own personal anxiety it is always a good idea to allow plenty of time to get ready for events / appointments / anything else. And if you find that you have extra time, have something to do.
- NEVER argue. It's completely pointless.
- Enter their reality. For example, if the person thinks its 1980 and he or she is sixty years old, then, for the moment, it is 1980 and they are sixty years old.
- Use therapeutic "fiblets" (a minor untruth told to a person with dementia to make him or her feel better) Example: A person with dementia is asking to see his mother. In reality, his mother passed away twenty years ago. You do not want to tell him that because, most likely, he will think he is hearing this information for the first time. He will be devastated. Therefore, ask him about his mother. Say, "It sounds to me like you are thinking about your mother. Tell me about her." Ask other questions if necessary. If cornered, tell him that his mother went to the store, and you are unsure of when she will be returning.
- Allow people to express their feelings. People with dementia may not remember what was said or what happened, but they often will remember how it made them feel.
- Nip agitated behavior in the bud. Divert and redirect. Do something to stop the unwanted behavior, then, redirect to another activity. For example, you can say "I understand you want to go home now, but first can you please help me wash this table. You are the only one who can do it right. Let's go get the supplies we need." Then talk about the supplies you need. Ask as many questions as you can to redirect interest.
- Be patient. Ask the memory challenged person to be patient also.
- Smile and ask the memory challenged person to smile. Smiling is contagious.
- Laugh and ask the memory challenged person to laugh. Laughing is even more contagious.
- Look into your options for care, such as Home Healthcare, Adult Day Care, Nursing Homes, etc. If you are the primary caregiver for a person with dementia, these settings offer you a significant amount of relief, as they offer trained professionals that specifically work with individuals that suffer from dementia.
- Don't go through this alone – find and attend a support group. You will find many caregivers are in similar situations. Talking about the issues you face will, at the very least, make you feel better. You'll also probably get some great ideas as well. Groups meet every day in most areas – there's a chance a group meets near your home. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association for more information.
In the end, remember that you are likely one of the few rays of sunshine in your loved one's life. You are also the one in the relationship that still has full faculties, and hard as it may be, it's important to try and stay as strong as you possibly can. For everyone involved.
I hope this article was helpful to you.
David Lee is the Managing Director of Home Health NYC, which offers patients an intuitive (and free) NYC Home Healthcare online search feature. With no fees on either end, the company provides patients with an unbiased list of NYC Home Healthcare companies that can meet their unique needs.