When Alzheimer’s hits, two of life’s biggest relationship challenges, clear communication and managing anger, become wildly more challenging.
Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, is caused when high levels of certain proteins damage brain cells in the region of the brain that affects learning. Memory problems are typically the first sign of Alzheimer’s. As the disease advances, it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes, and deepening confusion.
With a little understanding, a lot of patience, and a few new strategies, you can make a big difference in the quality of life for you and your loved one.
6 Tips for Better Communication
With Alzheimer’s and dementia, the ability to communicate and understand what others are trying to say inevitably declines over time as the brain changes. This can cause major frustration for everyone. If your loved one has moderate to severe dementia, you’ll want to make mindful changes in how, when, and where you speak in order to communicate compassionately and effectively.
1. Accept that your loved one has dementia—and that it will get worse over time, slowly eroding their communication skills. (Remind yourself of this daily.)
2. Understand that short-term memory loss is one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s and accept that you will have to repeat yourself. Often. Be able to stay calm so you can avoid feeling frustration or anger which will only make things worse.
3. Speak naturally and clearly in a calm, warm voice. (Even with severe dementia, an adult still wants and deserves to be talked to as an adult—respectfully.)
4. If you’re trying to communicate something important, choose the right place at a time with no distractions that would make focusing on your words more difficult.
• Turn off the TV or radio.
• Close a window to reduce outside noise.
• Move to a quiet room away from others.
5. Always refer to people by their first names rather than using pronouns like “she,” “he,” or “they,” which can be confusing for someone with dementia.
6. Be an active—and patient—listener. If you don’t understand what your loved one is trying to say, gently let them know that and ask them to say it in another way.
When talking to a loved one who has dementia, be sure to communicate in nonverbal ways too. Smiling often, making good eye contact, and punctuating your words with a gentle, loving touch will help them understand you and feel more relaxed in the process.
Everyone deserves a break.
“Caregiving is demanding — and it’s normal
to need a break. Seeking help does not
make you a failure. Remember that respite
services benefit the person with dementia
as well as the caregiver.”
Source: Alzheimer’s Association
6 Tips for Managing Anger or Aggression
As Alzheimer’s progresses, changes in the brain cause changes in behavior. Feeling confused, frustrated, or overwhelmed can lead to aggressive behavior, which often comes on suddenly for no apparent reason. Knowing what to do when your loved one is angry or showing aggression can help to calm the situation quickly.
1. Remember, it’s not your loved one—it’s the disease.
2. Be calm and speak calmly. (If you’re stressed or irritable, the other person will definitely pick up on it.)
3. Try to identify the source of stress quickly. (Is it physical pain or discomfort? Is there a confusing noise, distracting lights, unfamiliar people nearby, or too much clutter in the room?)
4. Acknowledge the feelings and address—even if the facts don’t match.
5. Shift the focus to a relaxing, familiar activity such as looking at old photos, singing favorite songs, listening to music, or going for a walk.
6. Check the way you’re communicating to be sure you aren’t adding stress or frustration. Are you asking too many questions at once or not speaking clearly enough? Poor communication also can trigger anger and aggression in people with dementia.
A good rule to remember—keep it simple, say it soft.
Honor provides personalized care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementia—and support for family caregivers—in Los Angeles and the SF Bay Area. Need respite care, supplemental care, or just have questions? Give us a call at (877) 777-5116.