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Improving Communication with Alzheimer's Patients Helps Reduce Stress

Judie Rappaport
February 20, 2011


Compare these stories:        

Patty: "After 5 years of caring for my parents, my husband couldn't take anymore and left. My savings are gone and I'm alone and lost."  

            Fred: "I was just about at the end of my rope when I walked into the Alzheimer's care group and the nurse took me by the hand. She talked to me for an hour and came to my house to see my wife. She was the first person I met who worried about me, the caregiver. She changed our lives."


Here's what we know:  Alzheimer's education and support can improve your quality of life. Whether Mom lives with you or in a nursing home, every routine activity in your life will change as her Alzheimer's progresses. Most changes and are outside your control. Why not ease your burden by mastering those that are somewhat manageable?


Start with two new basic communication skills:


1.       "Mom asks the same question over and over. I lose patience and end up so stressed my stomach hurts."

Why:   AD destroys memory. Mom doesn't remember asking the question before. 

Tip:  Master distraction. "Come, Mom, I want to show you a pretty sweater (flower, tree)." Chat warmly on the way to see it. Mom will forget her question and focus on you.


2.       "When I talk with Dad, neither of us understands the other. It's maddening."

Why: AD prevents Dad from understanding and processing complex requests.

Tips:   Use simple words and short sentences, preferably requiring only a "Yes" or "No" answer, "Dad would you like a glass of juice?"  Illustrate your meaning with props: hold out a glass of juice. Touch the chair to help Dad understand, "Sit here Dad."

Minimize distractions and noise (television/radio) to help Dad focus.  When you have his attention, speak calmly.

Remain quiet and give Dad enough time to answer. If she's struggling, try to help supply the word.

AD patients are sensitive to your moods, facial expressions, voice tones. If you're talking to or about Dad, smile and hold his hand to help him feel safe and comfortable.


Bonus Tip: Do not take this long journey alone. Check "resources" for the help you need.


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