What are some tips on responding to signs of dementia?

Coping with a parent or other older person showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia can be extremely taxing for family members. Difficulty in communicating can even produce conflict, aggravating the situation. To help, here are several suggestions, culled from information provided by the Alzheimer’s Association, for identifying and easing challenges.

Questions: Asking open-ended questions can be too confusing for someone with memory impairment, leading to frustration for both of you. It is better to make simple declarative statements. (“Let’s leave at 11 to shop for the gift for Lisa’s baby.”) Or ask yes/no questions. (“Would you like to leave at 11 to shop for the gift?”)

Redirecting Behavior: Instead of questioning or contradicting actions, communicate a positive message. (“You can put that magazine on the bookcase.”) (“Let’s use the everyday blue dishes.”)

Activities: Do activities together. Someone with dementia may be unable to undertake activities alone but quite capable of doing things with you. (“Let’s make your grocery list together.”) (“I’ll help you water the plants.”)

Tone of Voice: Loud or argumentative tones of voice can produce anxiety in those with dementia. Speak calmly and slowly with a reassuring tone.

Soothing Environment: Soft lighting and soft music––especially composed of familiar tunes––can be calming.

Clothing: Wearing out-of-season or otherwise inappropriate clothing is often an indication of memory loss. Help with specifics. (“Wearing your green raincoat will be perfect.”) Also, watch for trouble with buttons, which can cause frustration. Maybe Mom needs a new sweater that zips.

Touch: The sense of touch is very important for persons with Alzheimer’s. It is calming and helps remove the feeling of loneliness.

Expressing Feelings v. Facts and Ideas: When it is too difficult to discuss current events or even what happened to you yesterday, focus on feelings to maintain connections. (“I’ve always loved your sense of humor.”)

You can consult these resources for more tips:

Alzheimer’s From the Inside Out, Richard Taylor
Caring For a Person With Alzheimer’s Disease, National Institute of Aging
Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am?, Maria Shrive
I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care, John Zeisel, Ph.D.
Living Your Best With Early Stage Alzheimer’s, Lisa Snyder
Speaking Our Minds: What It’s Like to Have Alzheimer’s Disease, Lisa Snyder
The Alzheimer’s Project, HBO

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