Communicative processes used to discover what is needed or desired by others in business or other walks of life work well with loved ones experiencing dementia and related memory issues. And while the single most important concept to remember is that short term memory loss affects every conversation, short term memory loss greatly affects attention span. Keep it short, keep it kind and keep it simple.
Here are some tips from an article in Psychology Today’ website:
- Consider the timing and mood of your recipient.
- Check your own emotional level.
- Be responsible for delivering clear communication.
- Consider using I-messages to avoid blaming or putting others on the defensive.
- Be a good listener (attentive) when receiving a communication.
And here are more from the Social Care Institute for Excellence website in UK:
Their focus is providing professional care to Alzheimer’s patients and those dealing with other sources of dementia. Their techniques are good to understand for non-professional care givers. I use this list to think about and discern how better to help Cheryl.
- Minimize background noise
- Think about how the person may be feeling
- Always introduce yourself
- Greetings or ‘verbal handshake’
- Physical approach
- Be aware of emotions and touch
- Identify the emotional state of the response
- Don’t be shy from tears or laughter
- Say what you think the other feels
- Keep it simple
- Use the person’s name often
- Use visual aids and prompts
- Confirm understanding
Minimize background noise – I have noticed that Cheryl is easily distracted by almost anything that passes into her line of sight. I have noticed that Cheryl is unable to do two things simultaneously such as talk to someone and keep walking. I have noticed that Cheryl is unable to follow a conversation if two people talk animatedly about some topic in rapid succession or over the top of each other. I have noticed that Cheryl is unable to interpret words spoken with a different lilt or accent other than Midwest Cincinnati. I have noticed that she no longer watches any of her favorite shows on TV. With all of this considered if I want to gain her full attention, I remove all distractions.
Relax – I struggle with relaxing and letting go for a bit if she is out of my sight. As her disease progresses and I see her falter with balance issues, stumbling gait and postural difficulties, my anxiety about her future (and mine) often comes through in my voice. I may say things or express opinions that can easily interpreted as rude, pedantic and egotistical. For those times I apologize to her and you.
Think about how the person may be feeling – I do not do this enough. It is easy from the outside to forget that the person is not the disease. Parkinson seems to make this harder because in one moment she will be “fine” and in the next she will be “off” – not necessarily physically off, mentally off and physically fine. I find this confusing and my default is not “she’s confused – help her”. My default tends toward preachy pedantic lecture.
Always introduce yourself – Most of the time I do not need to do this. I can understand that it may be important for a professional to do this. Occasionally Cheryl is unsure of who I am. Mostly this occurs in the evening if she experiencing a bit of Sundowning. (Sometimes I am “that guy who brings the pills”) Sometimes I tell who I am if I think she will accept it. Sometimes I leave it alone. The important thing is to not be insistent that she is wrong about who I am.
Physical approach – I have noticed that Cheryl startles much more easily than she did before Parkinson (bP). This comes in many forms visually and audibly but the important thing is to not surprise her. Surprises often lead to backing up and falling down which is her usual method of falling. She will move away suddenly from the perceived surprise.
Be aware of emotions and touch; identify the emotional state of the response; do not be shy of tears or laughter – I think these fit together as emotional response to conversation. Sometimes to me it is surprising that she will have tears about telling you that Laurencia is going to Ohio State University. I can understand that talking about her deceased mother will cause tears. Nevertheless it is important to understand that a person suffering with Parkinson may have her emotions very close to the surface. Try to remain calm but it is okay to “have a moment” and be with her. One memory often elicits another more tender memory and things tumble downhill quickly.
Keep it simple; use the person’s name often or the other person’s name if telling a story; use visual aids and prompts – pictures of children; confirm understanding – I have noticed that Cheryl may lose the thread of any story or conversation easily. She will not indicate in any way that she has lost track of what you are telling her. You may detect that she has lost it by some response that she makes. Simply reiterate some part of the story to help her recall. Do not get bogged down in correcting her mistaken thinking. Do not raise your voice to emphasize the correct story, time of day, holidays coming up, time of the year or who is coming to dinner. She will not remember but she will think that you are frustrated, angry or disappointed and respond with – I’m sorry.
Finishing– Just as you prepared to start a visit and conversation, so you must think about how you will bring it to a close. I do this many times a day. (For visits) When you are leaving the our home, make sure you say goodbye. Cheryl may think that you are still here, perhaps in another room. This may cause confusion or anxiety later. Ensure you have her attention, smile, and let her know you enjoyed your time together and the conversation. Shaking her hand or hugging her is a common gesture which gives her a strong clue you are leaving. Leave her reassured and let her know you look forward to talking again.
I spend a lot of time reading articles and searching for useful ideas to help Cheryl. This post is a sort of summary of two of those and how I think I can better communicate with her.
I am still not good at that.