Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Can We Talk?

Communication with individuals with Alzheimer’s can be tricky. They can easily get frustrated at our misunderstanding of their needs and our patience is regularly tested because they misunderstand our understanding of what we are trying to communicate to them. Huh? Exactly!

I can’t imagine their world. Words are floating around in their heads with no form of sequence or destination. We are challenged to put these jumbled words into some sense of uniform and comprehension. We become like Johnny Carson’s “Carnac,” mindreading our way through the myriad of supposed answers they give us of which we must search for the original question. Frustrating to say the least.

Short and simple. Individuals with Alzheimer’s need about 16 seconds to process what we are trying to convey to them, and they need us to convey that dialogue is short, simple sentences and/or instructions. It’s lunchtime. [Pause] Let’s go to the table. [Pause] Here’s your sandwich.

Use familiar words and/or phrases. Watch their body language and gestures. Know their particular mannerisms and routines. Listen, listen, listen. “I want to go home,” may mean that they are restless and bored, they need to go to the bathroom, or they just simply need some comfort and security. Talk with them in their present moment. Allow them to take YOU on a journey of conversation and just ride that discourse.

Moreover, the way we say something has an impact of their understanding, too. Are we communicating in a kind and loving tone of voice, or are our words projected with undertones of frustration, anxiety or anger? Individuals with Alzheimer’s have a very keen sixth sense, so to speak, and quickly pick up when we deliver a language to them that less than desirable.

It’s all about learning a language of Dementia, and after awhile, it does get easier, as long as we understand that great communicating comes with great compassion and patience. It’s so important to maintain dialogue with the individual with Alzheimer’s, otherwise, they become and they feel isolated and the disease can easily progress more rapidly.

The beauty of this dialogue is the history we discover in every individual we care for and encounter. Their brains have stored, for the most part, wonderful life stories of which, we, the recipients, can find so stimulating, rewarding, and oftentimes, very educational. Lend a listening ear. Delve into that foreign language of dementia and awaken that person whose words are separated by a disease unique to every individual. Communication is a two-way street, and even though individuals with Alzheimer’s are going just one way, we can assist in guiding them with the right signs and gestures. It’s worth the effort for everyone.

-Dana Territo, Director of Services

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