How to communicate with someone who has dementia
There’s nothing scarier than learning that someone you love has been diagnosed with a long-term, incurable illness—especially when it slowly erases their most cherished memories. “What’s often misunderstood by family, friendsm and caregivers is that individuals with Alzheimer’s continue to have emotions, but are unable to logically understand, feel, and resolve these emotions with reason,” says Rebecca Axline, LCSW-S, supervisory clinical social worker at Houston Methodist’s Nantz National Alzheimer Center. For example, a wife tells her husband that he can’t drive anymore because the doctor said so, the husband becomes angry, and, long after he’s forgotten why he’s angry, his behavior is still agitated and resistive. The wife soon becomes overwhelmed because he’s acting out and she doesn’t know why. “Alzheimer’s disease presents the need for a shift in how you relate, communicate and create new memories,” explains Axline. “If you continue to do things the way you always did, everyone will feel sad, bad and frustrated, but at the same time, moments and memories can still be good—they simply have to be different.” Here are ways to hold on tightly to the intimate bond you once had.
First, learn about the disorder your loved one has been diagnosed with
When you can grasp a better understanding of the condition your friend or family member is dealing with, it only makes it easier for you to have empathy and remain emotionally connected. “Sometimes families believe they are seeing a ‘loss of emotion’ but they are actually observing the patient not being able to understand directions or conversations and participate appropriately,” says Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, clinical social worker and author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring For Your Loved One. “This leads to guilt and frustration on the part of family and friends.” Don’t hesitate to do your research or ask the patient’s medical staff as many questions as you may have. In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association offers endless information about the disease and most other irreversible dementias through their website, classes, and support groups. You’ll meet others who have struggled with emotionally connecting with their friend or family member, and better prepare yourself for what’s to come. Here are 16 things people with Alzheimer’s disease wish you knew.