Q: Dear Regina, I have been caring for elderly patients in hospitals and private care for 8 years. I have cared for a few persons with Alzheimer’s. I find I am caring and do a good job but understand there is more to learn. Will you give me some basic tips to approach a person with Alzheimer’s? I find it hard sometimes just to get the person to respond to me. It takes such a long time before they will eat or let me help them get dressed. It is such a fight. There must be an easier way. How can I make this easier?
A: Thank you for Caring and being there for so many people. We need more earth-angels like you. Three tips to approach a person with dementia are basic and will help decrease the fights you struggle with.
First, you want to always have your mind clear of any anxieties or negativities prior to approaching someone with dementia. Depending on the level or stage of dementia the person is experiencing, you want your mood and affect to be bubbly happy to mild peaceful. Always have a pleasant sense about you.
Second, you want to approach the person directly, even if her/his cognitive capacity is diminished.
Third, gain the person’s attention by greeting them by name. When they look towards you look for the signal to approach closer. If you are not getting them to turn towards your greeting to see your face do not approach. (Unless he/she is in the later stages and unable to move towards your greeting – A slightly different approach when bed-bound). Repeat the greeting so they can see and hear you.
When you feel welcomed to come closer try to maintain that connection by complimenting them and assuring them that they are safe.
Always ask their permission using verbal and non-verbal cues. Speak clear and at natural rate of speed. You may need to use simple direct wording. Avoid speaking louder. Before rephrasing your words repeat them. Sometimes it just takes longer to process what you are saying. If that doesn’t work then rephrase your wording.
Open ended questions often confuse the person with dementia so using yes and no questions often help if you are trying to get them to do something. Earlier stages where they are more fluent with talking, you will trigger good response by bringing up something that they are familiar with. Connecting with them first before doing anything with them will get you a better response.
Listen and pay attention to their cues. Remember that babies make noise and it is up to us to figure out what they need. Like-wise as a person loses their ability to talk and form words, it is up to us to figure out their needs. People living with dementia do the same thing. They do communicate and they want their needs met. We must open our other forms of communication.
There are many online classes that you can learn from and have a better understanding on communication with a person living with dementia. Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association and they can guide you with more information.
Q: Dear Regina, My dad has late stage dementia and has been bed-ridden for approximately a year in NY. My sister has been his primary caregiver. She does have help with other family support and hired help. My brother and I here in St Lucia provide the finances for the hired help. We both feel so disconnected and helpless. Is there any support groups out here in St Lucia to help us cope with long distant care support?
A: My goodness my heart goes out to you as long distant support is so unappreciated. The next Support meeting will be held in January 2017. Until then you and your brother can join our facebook support for the Caribbean Caring Angels~ Alzheimer’s & Dementia Support. It is a closed group so you can freely vent your frustrations or support another person. There are many fb support groups that can help at this time.
I want to assure you and your brother that your participation is so vital while you are distant. Calling when you can, sending items that make things easier for your dad and your sister is always helpful.
Being distant in the late stages is depressing for many families and this is beyond your control. Support your sister with her needs as most of her attention is on your dad. Thank her, appreciate her. When you visit him your presence there is a blessing.
There are cases where Primary families prevent long distant family from helping and this will also add guilt to the long-distant family.
The guilt we carry as long distant family and friends is very difficult. No one really gets it but those going through it or have been through it. The best approach is to share the experience with someone you trust to release the pain. No one can take it away. Understand that you are not alone and family dynamics can cause a fountain of challenges. Know your own heart and do not judge the other family members as their response may not be as cruel as it appears to you. We all express emotional pain uniquely. Please, nurture your own pain with love so you can be there for your loved one. Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association for more information. At times it may be needed to speak to a professional Therapist for support.
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