Easier conversation tips for people with Alzheimer’s

February 22, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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Enough people have trouble talking with their grandmothers – or their mothers. Sometimes they don’t know what to talk about, other times they don’t want to talk about the same things you want to talk about. If their grandmothers or mothers also have Alzheimer’s disease, that doesn’t help the situation.

When you carry on a conversation with someone with Alzheimer’s, you can count on them to repeat themselves and to say some things that you may not agree with. “I don’t remember anything they’re talking about. I thought they were the one with the memory problems, not me,” you mutter to yourself.

Many loved ones respond by trying to fix the situation – trying a quick little Alzheimer’s cure for the benefit of the loved one. But I’m not sure it’s really very restful for the loved one – or for the person with Alzheimer’s:

“You already asked me three times if I’m too cold, Mother. Don’t you remember?”
No, she doesn’t remember. She has Alzheimer’s disease – don’t you remember? Do people ask the same question three times if they remember asking it the first time? On the other hand, do you remember answering her clearly the first time she asked? Many children never learn to do that, and when they’re grown, they feel they can stop trying. It’s a way of getting revenge.

“No, Mother, nobody took your favorite coat. Why do you always have to accuse people? Don’t you remember? We decided to throw it out.”
Are we trying to develop a talk-therapy cure for Alzheimer’s disease here? Talk therapy works better for depression, not for neurological diseases. You can’t force someone to remember something that’s not there.

I found that I was happier with my grandmother when I wasn’t fighting the unfightable, when I wasn’t trying to push the boulder up the hill. All your loved one is asking for is a little attention and reassurance. Give it to her quickly, gently, consistently, and you’ll both feel better. Don’t worry about being original or eloquent. Short is good, especially if you’re going to have to repeat it many times. You might experiment until you find the answer that best satisfies your loved one.

“Thank you, Mother. I feel warm and comfy.” (Short and sweet – if she believes you. Have you proved to her that she can?)
“I’m comfortable now that I’m inside the house. Are you warm enough, Mother?” (She may be hinting that she’s cold, or that she would like a sweater.)
“Let me put my sweater back on. Now, I feel better.” (Mothers often appreciate seeing improvements and changes in the world.)

“Your coat is missing? That sounds terrible. I’ll talk to one of the nurses about it. (Notice I didn’t say I would ask the nurse about it. I’ll just mention it to her, just so I can say I did.)
“Oh, I think I took it home with me.” (That may be enough, repeated on every visit or several times a visit, depending on whether she remembers the answer or asks more questions. Notice that I’m not lying, but I’m not telling her that I put it in the garbage when I got home with it.)
“That’s one of my favorite coats too. Where did you buy it?” (Only ask questions that you know she can answer. In this case, I know that she loves to tell about that shopping trip to Chicago.)

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