Do you have someone in your family with dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Like many of us, you may be worried about the best ways to communicate with your loved ones. We’ve put together a list of suggestions of how to connect with someone newly diagnosed or when you visit someone who has been living with the disease for a longer period of time. Our communities at Maplewood Senior Living are here to help at any time, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Additionally, we suggest downloading our complimentary Your Guide to Navigating a Dementia Diagnosis for more information.
Dementia affects nearly 50 million people worldwide, with Alzheimer’s contributing to 60-70% of cases. Receiving a dementia diagnosis can drastically change your plans, impact relationships with your friends and family, and cause you to reevaluate your wishes for your life. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease affect a person’s memory, thinking, orientation and can causes changes in comprehension, language, and judgment. As the disease progresses, many of those living with a diagnosis will rely heavily on support from spouses, family members, or caregivers.
A dementia diagnosis can be extremely difficult to digest for the recipient, but it can also be devastating for friends and community members. As the disease progresses, many people might find it difficult to maintain a connection with a loved one living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, especially in the later stages where memory can be severely impaired. Instead of feeling like you’re watching yourself lose someone you care about, there are ways you can be actively involved in maintaining your connection to them—in a way that works for both you and your loved one.
If your loved one has just received dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the news could come as a surprise—or maybe it’s something you’ve suspected for a while. Regardless, the most helpful thing you can do is to learn about the disease and how to make small, helpful changes in your interactions. As you do your research on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, here are a few things to keep in mind as you work to support your loved one in their diagnosis:
The thought of losing the ability to communicate can be devastating for those who have been diagnosed with dementia, especially for those in the early stages. As the disease progresses, it can be tempting to communicate with your loved one. Instead, you might consider implementing these strategies early on:
• Make eye contact, speak clearly and call your loved one by their name
• Talk as you would normally, but make sure to speak more slowly if necessary
• Give your loved one time to respond and avoid completing sentences or talking over them
• Let them speak for themselves, especially when it comes to their health care
• Offer simple choices and options
• Use hand gestures, body language, and rephrase questions when necessary
Act as an advocate
Sharing a diagnosis with a larger community can have its challenges. If your friend is planning on sharing their diagnosis, you might consider asking if they want help telling others and sharing their wishes.
Make time for yourself
Walking through someone’s dementia or Alzheimer’s journey can be emotionally taxing, so it’ important to take time to grieve in your way. Taking some time to explore your hobbies and interests can help rejuvenate your spirit and help you be a support system for your loved one.
As friends, we want to take care of our loved ones and support them in any way we can. However, it can be tempting to accidentally overstep boundaries. There can be a tendency to do too much without noticing. This overdoing can make a person feel like they are unable to support themselves or contribute to the friendship. Instead, consider having a conversation with your loved one discussing what help is appreciated and what is not.
As your loved one progresses through the disease, it can sometimes feel like the friendship has changed. When normal activities such as taking walks, going to the movies, or playing cards, become more difficult, you may need some inspiration to maintain the connection. The Family Caregiver Alliance has compiled some of their best tips to stay connected to your loved one as they continue on their journey with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease:
• Start with Positivity. Those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can often pick up on body language to convey a message more quickly than words. Setting a positive mood with physical touch, facial expressions, and tone of voice will help communicate your message and feelings of affection.
• Limit Distractions. Competing sounds and noises, like loud music or television, can add to the confusion for those with dementia. You might consider turning off these distractions or move to a quieter setting. As the disease progresses, you may need to identify yourself by your name and relation, address your loved one by their name and maintain eye contact.
• Be Mindful When You Ask to Visit. Many of those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s have good and bad times during the day, especially for those who experience sundowning. Before your visit, ask their caregiver which time of day is best for your loved one and schedule the visit around their preferences.
• Ask Simple Questions. Ask your questions one at a time, leaving space for them to answer. Giving and showing options instead of asking open-ended questions can also be helpful, especially if you’re asking them to choose between multiple items.
• Adapt Activities. When you’re no longer able to do things you normally would do together, you may need to adapt. For example, if you’re used to going on walks with your loved one, you might consider sitting outdoors or bringing elements of the outdoors inside, like a vase of flowers. Even talking about the good old days’ can bring back memories and spark conversation. Listening to music is also shown to be especially comforting for those with the disease.
• Respond with Empathy. People with dementia will often feel confused, forgetful, and unsure. Instead of correcting them when they recall memories incorrectly or repeat themselves, respond with compassion. Stay focused on the emotion they are trying to convey and respond accordingly.
Our Maplewood Senior Living communities offer support and therapy groups to those who have been affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. These groups can be a great opportunity to learn how to support and connect to a loved one’s diagnosis. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.
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