The Power of Learning How To Connect with the Alzheimer’s Patient
When I arrived at Mary’s house, it was only two in the afternoon and Mary was just sitting there in her wheelchair, eyes closed and in complete and total silence. Her paid caregiver sat beside her, playing games on her smart phone, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Mary was right there.
Mary is in the mid to late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and there were things she could be doing with her, in that moment, that would not only help her connect with Mary, but would go so far in improving Mary’s day, and her overall sense of well-being.
Mary’s husband says that as Mary began to lose more and more of her ability to initiate conversations or verbalize her fears, wants and needs, her caregivers, not knowing what to say, what to do, or how to connect, stopped trying to reach her.
Her days became routine, each one the same as the last. She slept for hours in her wheelchair every afternoon, and fought her 9:00 p.m. bedtime. She lashed out when they woke her to eat or to shower and she was restless, fidgety and angry. Her family told her doctor she was getting worse. So her doctor increased her medications to help with her “anxiety” and to help her “sleep better” at night. A few weeks later, her husband finally reached out to me because Mary appeared sadder, depressed, and he didn’t know what to do.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses and the person becomes more and more disconnected from the world around them, caregivers so often, and so unintentionally, lose their way. That’s okay, in part because there’s no manual for this, no right or wrong. When the doctor hands you that prescription for Aricept, most don’t hand you a book to tell you what do, or how to reach the person you love, when they seem to be slipping away. But there are ways that caregivers, like Mary’s, can reconnect with their loved one.
Mary’s husband and her paid caregiver were very open to trying new ideas, exploring new techniques and finding ways to visit Mary in her past memories. They just didn’t know where to begin. So we began at the beginning. With the understanding that for Mary, success would lie in the doing, not in the completing of any activity we tried.
Along our journey, Mary’s caregivers saw how the power of touch, a soft voice, and a warm embrace had a positive effect. They learned that Mary still liked to hold hands; hated the smell of lavender but seemed to like the smell of French vanilla and cookies and cream.
They learned how heartbreaking silence is, and were stunned to see the powerful effect music can have on someone with Alzheimer’s disease. They began to play music on and off throughout the day and discovered Mary would smile and sing along just a bit, with some of her old favorites.
They learned Mary loves to go for long walks in his wheelchair and would respond to the scents and sounds of nature. She liked to smell flowers along the way and seemed to enjoy watching kids play in the park.
As Mary became more engaged with her husband and caregiver during the day, she was able to stay awake a little more each afternoon, and that helped reduce the number of evening bed-time battles.
On a rainy day they stayed inside, and they learned that Mary can still color; she can complete a 4-piece puzzle and fold the kitchen towels – sort of. When they dug out her old favorite movie and put it on TV, they gave her a small glass of root beer and a little popcorn and she was able to follow-along and watched for almost 30 minutes.
They learned Mary likes to look at old family and pictures of her childhood years, but the pictures of her old cat greatly upset her. They were pleasantly surprised that when she did get upset and they gave her the doll her granddaughter left behind, she calmed down, and the doll became her constant companion.
Learning how to reach the person you care for will take some trial and error. It may not be easy and you might want to quit. But if you keep trying and persevere, you’ll discover that just when you think all is lost, you’ve reconnected with the person you love.
On a particularly tough day, after Mary’s husband tried everything to reach his wife, and nothing seemed to work, he just bent down beside her, held her hand the way she liked, looked into her eyes and simply said “Mary, I’m right here and I love you”.
And on that day, for the first time in many years, Mary told her husband that she loved him too. But she didn’t do it by saying the words; she did it by showing him in her response. The response she showed to his touch; the small smile he saw on her face, and the single tear that fell from her eye.
He said he understood that it was okay to have days when he didn’t get through to Mary. Days when nothing would work and he couldn’t connect, but he said he wouldn’t stop trying.
He said that his Mary, his bride, was still there, and not so lost after all. And that when all is said and done, his peace comes from knowing this disease will not take away the love they will always have for each other.
Alzheimer’s: The Elephant in the Room and the Crystal Ball
Last week I met with a man who has been experiencing symptoms of memory loss for almost four years. I also met with his wife and daughter. They came to the Alzheimer’s Care Resource Center because “Ed’s” conditon appears to be getting worse.
We talked about dementia and about some of the challenges they were facing individually and as a family. Ed expressed his concern about his memory loss and his desire not be a burden. His wife cried and expressed her inability to cope with the changes in her life and her fear about the future. Their daughter cried because she’s afraid her mom is going to end up in the hospital and doesn’t understand why her dad’s memory is getting worse.
After some gentle probing I learned that Ed hasn’t seen a neurologist, and that they haven’t tried to determine the cause of Ed’s memory issues. And the more we spoke, the more it became apparent that we had a big elephant in the room – Alzheimer’s disease. Two of the most dreaded and frightening words to someone whose memory is fading and to the people they love.
Just thinking that you or someone you care about might have Alzheimer’s is scary. And saying the words out loud and speaking about it was something this family was clearly not comfortable doing. So we talked about the elephant in the room, and about memory loss and dementia. We talked about how they are coping right now and how many of their fears, thoughts, and decisions have been largely based on the unknown.
I shared with them that this is pretty common and that theoretically, they’ve been looking into a crystal ball and searching for answers with no real understanding of exactly what they might be dealing with.
We talked about the pros and cons of learning the real reason behind Ed’s memory loss and each of them shared how that knowledge might be useful to them individually and as a family.
And at the end of our time together, everyone said the words “Alzheimer’s disease” out loud. Although we hope that Ed’s memory loss stems from something else, this lovely family is moving forward with the understanding that sometimes knowledge is power, and elephants and crystal balls serve no real purpose – except when visiting the circus.
Making Moments Matter™ – Alzheimer’s Care at Home
Today is Valentine’s Day and it’s usually the one day each year that we make a special point of telling the people we care about how much we love them. But how do you communicate with the person that has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia? How can you let them know that you love them when the words no longer seem to get through?
Don’t tell me you love me, show me you love me
You’ve probably heard the expression – “Don’t tell me you love me, show me you love me”, and when someone you love has Alzheimer’s, this is often the best way of letting them know how much you love them and just how much you care.
Although the person with Alzheimer’s may no longer seem to respond to your words or have the ability to reply, they are still able to experience and express a full range of emotions, including love. They will respond to your touch, your tone of voice and your facial expression. They may surprise you with a smile, a tear or a word.
Making Moments Matter – Alzheimer’s Care at Home
If you are providing Alzheimer’s care at home, here are a few ways you can show your love:
- Hold their hand and make direct eye contact. Smile and tell them you love them.
- Stroke their hair
- Rub lotion on their arms and into their hands.
- Wrap them in their favorite blanket or quilt and share a cup of tea or coffee.
- Stimulate their senses. Research also shows that familiar scents can trigger good memories.
Valentine’s Day Activities to Do With an Alzheimer’s Patient*
- Bake heart shaped cookies
- Cut red hearts out of construction paper and make a banner
- Wear red
- Watch an old romantic movie
- Look a vintage Valentine’s day cards
- Thank your loved one for something they have said to you or done for you in the past and how much it meant to you.
- Tell the your loved one about how they have inspired you, either because of something they did in the past or are doing now.
- Laugh with them. Have fun and be playful, tap into your loved one’s playful inner child.
*choose activities based on your loved ones abilities. Focus on the “doing”, not on the “completing” of the task.
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open with a strong network of friends and family members you can turn to when you need someone to talk to. Check local organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Care Resource Center, to get information on Alzheimer’s support groups in Boca Raton. And don’t forget to talk with your healthcare provider or family physician if you have questions about depression, dementia or Alzheimer’s care in Boca Raton.
If you or a loved one are showing signs of depression, help is just a phone call, or mouse click away. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The World Health Organization’s website has many great resources, facts and information on depression.
Recognizing Depression in the Elderly in Boca Raton
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “at least 350 million people live with depression, and it is the leading cause of disease worldwide.” Another interesting fact from WHO is that by 2020, depression will be the second biggest health problem, second only to heart disease.
Depression affects many people, and although it can arise at any age, from young children to older adults, depression typically begins in the late 20s. Depression crosses all races, ethnicities, and gender, but twice as many women get diagnosed with depression compared to men. This is probably due to the fact that women are more likely to seek treatment for depression.
Depression in the Elderly in Boca Raton
Are you taking care of a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia and looking for help with elder care in Boca Raton? Depression is a common problem many caregivers have to deal with. The World Health Organization says that the most common neuropsychiatric disorders in the 60 and over age group are depression and dementia.
People with depression are often reluctant or embarrassed to ask for help. Common methods used to treat depression include counseling, psychotherapy and antidepressants. All forms of depression can be improved with simple lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, a healthy diet and participation in social activities and favorite hobbies.
Depression in the elderly can manifest as a result of certain events or sudden changes. The National Institute of Health mentions that “in older adults, life changes can increase the risk for depression or make existing depression worse.” Traumatic events; such a moving to a retirement facility, chronic illness, death of a loved one or a loss of independence, can all trigger an episode of depression.
Top Signs of Depression
What are some of the signs and symptoms caregivers should look for? Some of the top warning signals of depression include:
- Lack of interest or enjoyment in regular activities, family or work
- Neglect of personal care and hygiene
- Constantly feeling tired and exhausted
- Low self-esteem and feeling worthless
- Changing or irregular sleeping patterns
- Spending lots of time thinking about things that have gone wrong
- Trouble focusing, concentrating and difficulty making decisions
- Crying spells for no clear reason
- Constant feelings of sadness and irritability or mood changes
- Feeling hopeless
- Thoughts of suicide or suicidal behavior
- Unintentional weight gain or loss
- Loss of interest in sex
- Unexplained physical problems, including stomach aches or headaches
- Reluctance to leave home
Reach Out for Help and Support
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open with a strong network of friends and family members you can turn to when you need someone to talk to. Check local organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Care Resource Center, to get information on Alzheimer’s support groups in Boca Raton. And don’t forget to talk with your healthcare provider or family physician if you have questions about depression, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
If you or a loved one are showing signs of depression in Boca Raton, Florida, help is just a phone call, or mouse click away. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The World Health Organization’s website has many great resources, facts and information on depression.
Dealing with Memory Loss in Delray Beach
Are you responsible for the care of a loved one or family member with Alzheimer’s or dementia? ElderCare at home has put together some great tips for dealing with memory loss in Delray Beach, and the entire Palm Beach County area.
You may find it harder to interact with your loved one dealing with memory loss. People with Alzheimer’s and dementia in Delray Beach may have problems with anger issues as a result. Anything you can do to present them with a regular routine is key to keeping them calm, serene and unagitated.
Top 7 Tips for Interacting with People with Memory Loss
1. Get Organized
Get organized by storing things in the same place. If the person with memory loss has trouble finding their shoes, coat, purse, and other everyday items, it might be because there’s no specific place to store them.
Make a list of items that tend to get lost and decide where to keep them. Once you decide where you are going to put items, keep them in the same place. For example, try to keep shoes by the front door, store eyeglasses on the bedroom dresser when not in use and place keys in a basket by the door.
2. Same Routine and Same Time
Get in the habit of doing regular activities at the same place at the same time each day. Plan a routine and stick to it. For instance, get up and get out of bed the same time each morning. Brush and floss your teeth at the same times every day. Set a specific time to take your medicine each day.
Try to set aside a particular day each week for special tasks, like shopping for food on Thursdays. These tips can all be implemented by anyone caring for someone with memory loss.
3. Practice Patience
The energy you put out, whether positive or negative, gets reflected in the personality of the memory loss patient. If you are agitated, your elderly father, mother, or other family member will be agitated. If you act in a calm and positive way, the dementia patient will be put at ease and is less likely to become agitated. A smile and reassuring hug can go a long way towards maintaining peace and harmony.
4. Visual Clues
Do you remember using flash cards when you were in school? They were a wonderful visual aid to help you remember math facts or for spelling help. You can use visual clues throughout the house to help a person with memory loss. Add a picture of dishes on the door of a kitchen cabinet, attach a photo of a favorite lunch to the refrigerator.
These visual aids may help the person remember where to find a dish or where you keep their favorite snack food. It may take time for the caregiver to make these changes, such as applying picture labels, but more time and effort will be saved over the long run.
5. Thanks for the Memories
Use old photographs and favorite songs to help people with severe memory problems remember events that happened long ago. Family heirlooms, a favorite flower, a favorite perfume or cologne and old photos or songs from their teen years may be comforting to them. Keep these memories and mementos handy to help remind them of fun times and friends.
These keepsakes can help calm down a restless or angry person as they become caught up in the happy mood of the memento and they may stay in a positive mood for a while. If an old memento happens to create sadness or anger, distract the person immediately with a new activity. Go to a different room, get a drink of juice, or go for a walk indoors or outdoors.
6. Limit Choices
The fewest number of items should be kept available; extras can be put away or stored. For example, a kitchen drawer should hold a few spoons and forks. The extra utensils should be stored and unavailable. In the clothes closet there could be two pairs of shoes, two shirts, and a pair of pants. It’s best if extra clothes are kept in a separate, locked closet.
Whenever possible, the caregiver should honor the preferences of the person with the memory disorder. The person has the right to choose. It helps to use “Do you want” type of questions that they can answer yes or no to. For example: “Do you want to wear the black shoes?” Or “Do you want to wear the brown shoes?”
7. Show Them How
Help them remember how to do activities they once participated in. People with declarative or fact memory problems may have good procedural memory and are able to remember how to do things. Instead of telling a person with memory loss what to do, show them how to do something and have them practice.
For example, after they practice unrolling the garden hose, watering the plants, and re-winding the garden hose a few times, they may remember how to water the garden. Keeping busy helps a person with dementia to feel useful and it provides exercise. During these activities, the caregiver has time for other responsibilities.
Contact ElderCare at Home for Help
If you need Alzheimer’s help in Delray Beach, contact ElderCare at Home. We will refer you to qualified referrals to private duty home caregivers. To learn how ElderCare at Home can help you, call us at 1-888-285-0093.