By: Mei Kameda, Program Coordinator, Keiro
Communication is key – whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, each and every one of us communicates in some way every single day. Sometimes we take communication for granted because this is something that we do naturally. However, did you know that certain health conditions can hinder someone’s ability to communicate efficiently? Alzheimer’s disease has the potential to gradually diminish the ability for an individual to communicate – not only do those with Alzheimer’s Disease have a difficult time expressing their emotions, thoughts, and ideas but also they have a difficult time understanding what others are saying to them as well. Imagine yourself just gradually not being able to communicate with those around you (without you noticing it) and for some reason, you have a difficult time expressing your needs or thoughts to others around you. At the same time, you experience difficulty understanding what others are trying to say to you – at first it’s concerning, and then sooner or later it becomes stressful. You may become frustrated because you cannot get other people to understand what you are trying to say, nor do you understand what others are trying to say to you. Then what happens? Well, some may stop talking or attending social gatherings such as family dinners or church activities.
So what is our responsibility as a community with a large aging population?
We need to be aware of the appropriate ways to communicate with those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. November is not only Family Caregiver Awareness Month, but also Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, which gives us the opportunity to come back and reassess whether we are communicating appropriately to those with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are some DO’s and DON’T’s to communicate effectively with those with Alzheimer’s Disease:1
- Give short, one-sentence explanations
- Allow plenty of time for comprehension (then triple it – patience is greatly needed!)
- Repeat , repeat, repeat – say the sentence exactly the same way
- Eliminate words like “but” from your vocabulary and substitute with “nevertheless”
- Avoid insistence – and come back and try again later
- Agree with them or distract them with a different subject or actions
- Accept the blame when something is wrong (even when it’s a hypothetical or a fantasy)
- Leave the room (if necessary) to avoid confrontations
- Respond to the “feelings” rather than the words
- Be patient, cheerful, and reassuring
- Go with the flow – it’s ok if your communication is not going the way you think it should be – it is important for us to be flexible and go with the flow
- Practice 100% forgiveness – be forgiving of those with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not them acting like this, it is the condition that is making them respond a certain way.
- Remind them they forget
- Question recent memory
- Take it personally
Although there may be some communication difficulties with your loved one(s), it doesn’t mean that they are a completely different person. They are still the person that you knew before. Although the condition may hinder them from communicating as he/she did before, they are still able to experience feelings such as joy, anger, fear, love, or even sadness. In next week’s blog, I will mention some activities that you can do with your loved ones who have Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, because it is possible to still enjoy activities with those who have these conditions – you just need to be flexible and change things up a bit.
I truly believe that we have the obligation to change the way we interact and approach those with Alzheimer’s disease. Just because someone is diagnosed with the condition, it doesn’t mean that they’re no longer the people that we love. This is not an easy process, but together we can get through this together.
Interested in Keiro’s Referral Services? Please call 213.873.5700
About the Author:
Mei Kameda is the Program Coordinator for the Kawana Center for Healthy Living at Keiro. She graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health Science (option in Community Health Education) and a minor in Communication Studies. In her spare time, Mei enjoys going on runs, baking, and volunteering which are a few of the many activities that allow her to live her life on purpose.
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