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The Power of the Human Touch with an Alzheimer’s Patient

Golden LivingCenters | posted September 22, 2014 | Bookmark and Share

When a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it can be frightening for both the patient and their loved ones. As the disease progresses, it steals a little bit more of a loved one’s personality, their memory and their ability to function as they did before the disease hit them. However, it doesn't steal their identity. They still are the same person you have loved. They just have an insurmountable challenge that causes them to act very differently as what they are navigating now can confuse, overwhelm, irritate and scare them all at the same time.

Be patient

The most important thing to do is be very patient. Often you will need to “listen with your eyes” to figure out what they might need or be struggling to say. If they seem fidgety or squatting, they may need to find the bathroom. If they are opening doors in the kitchen cupboards, they could be hungry. While you don’t want to finish their sentences or correct them, offering a trip to the restroom or asking if they would like a sandwich could be the solution.

Reduce distractions

When trying to have a conversation, remove distracting noises and objects. Because they can have trouble focusing at times, turning down a loud television or asking playful children to move to a different room can help them focus on what you are saying. This will allow them to focus all of their mental energy on your conversation.

Be kind, not right

A person with Alzheimer’s may frequently have delusions or remember things inaccurately. Let them. If they want to talk about the cat jumping on the counter when there is none, just acknowledge the “silly cat” and let it go. When you greet them, use your name and introduce other loved ones who may be with you. They know these are cherished loved ones that they should remember and simply can’t. Reminding them of your name and your children’s names will save them frustration and you from the pain of thinking they don’t remember you.

Enter their world

Often, your loved one may have an alternate reality. They may think a spouse still is living or that they are getting ready for a show on Broadway. Instead of squashing this vision, enter it with them. If they are talking about a loved one who has passed, ask questions that may spark fond memories about them. If they are getting ready for a show, ask what songs they will sing tonight or what their costume looks like. Once you enter their world, you actually might create some memories you can cherish together. No matter the reality, an opportunity to laugh and have a good time or cry and comfort each other can be a special moment for you both.

Lead with love

There will be times that will frustrate both of you. When those happen, it can help to look at the person and say a silent or aloud “I love you” to them. Remind yourself that you love this person, that they are special to you and that they have had an important role in your life. Even though their behavior may be different now, they still are in there. A person suffering from this disease already can feel like their world is slipping away in their mind. Just make sure you don’t. They need your presence and your love now more than ever. 

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