People with Alzheimer's disease and dementia live with brain damage that affects their thought processes, memory, and behavior. While their behavior can be upsetting and frustrating for you, it's even harder for them. It's important to be mindful of how you talk to someone with dementia or Alzheimer's.
Common Alzheimer's & Dementia Warning Signs
Neurologist Anelyssa D'Abreu, MD, shares that dementia is an umbrella term for any disorder that leads to a decline in brain function. Alzheimer's is the most common, along with frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, and vascular dementia.
With these different types, patients may show different symptoms. The most common is short-term memory loss. Examples are sharing the same story multiple times, leaving the stove on, or misplacing objects.
Changes in behavior or personality can also be an early symptom of dementia. Some even experience changes in food preferences. A few screening tests can determine if a neurologist needs to diagnose your loved one.
Tips For Positive Interactions with Alzheimer's & Dementia Patients
The key to more positive interactions with Alzheimer's patients, according to Teepa Snow, OTR/L, FAOTA, founder of Positive Approach to Care, is to understand a person's abilities and limitations. Then you can adjust your words, actions, and expectations accordingly. Snow has worked as a registered occupational therapist for over 30 years and is a leading educator on dementia. She explains that everyone has to learn to be flexible when a person gets Alzheimer's or dementia because the patient can't be.
Here are five tips for positively talking with Alzheimer's and dementia patients.
Affirm Their Reality
When a patient's version of what's going on is not real, trying to force reality often causes confusion or embarrassment. Instead of correcting the person's take on reality. Repeat their words back to affirm that you have heard what is being said even if you disagree. Your best response is, "It sounds like…" or "What I hear you saying is…."
If a person is angry, or upset about something, show that you think the emotion is legitimate. Your words can make a difference by acknowledging that you understand how the patient feels. Your best response is: "I'm sorry you feel that way…" or "That shouldn't have happened…."
Don't be Specific in Your Ask
Frustration results when a patient can't find the words to answer your question. Guide the conversation by saying: "Tell me more about it…" or "What are you thinking?"
Adjust Your Tone
Noticing Possible Symptoms?
If you have concerns about your loved one, talk with their providers about screening tests for dementia.
Deepen your voice, use a questioning tone and add emotion or pauses to your dialogue to grab the person's attention. Repeating yourself and getting louder only increases agitation.
Focus on discussion topics and activities that the person still cares about. When people feel accepted and understood, they are less anxious.
Being flexible in how you respond to a patient's thoughts, words and actions can improve interactions with those you love and will likely make your visit a happier one.
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