Maybe your friend shared with you recently that she’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is in the early stages. Or, perhaps your dad has been told he’s showing symptoms of early dementia. If you’ve decided to spend some time with your loved one and visit them, start with these seven tips:
Before you visit, come up with three things you know your loved one enjoys talking about. Maybe it’s his hobby of fishing, his former teaching job or the grandchildren. If the conversation isn’t moving anywhere, you’ll have some topics to broach that should cause him to enjoy talking with you.
Follow her Lead.
If your friend talks about the struggles she’s having and her grief over her diagnosis, listen. Don’t tell her everything will be fine or try to minimize this challenge.
On the other hand, if your loved one ignores the “elephant in the room”, let him feel as normal as possible. Unless the main purpose of your visit is to discuss the challenges of the disease and you’re the responsible party for those decisions, it’s okay to keep the topics light and encouraging most of the time. In the early stages, it’s likely that the person is quite aware of their memory loss and can use encouraging news.
Don’t Quiz Him.
His short term memory might not be fully intact for recent events, so don’t ask questions that relate to what he ate for lunch today or the last time his friend Joe stopped by.
If you’re visiting your parents and your father is in the early stages of dementia, make sure you don’t ignore him in your conversation. Also, don’t ask your mother, in front of him, how his memory has been.
People in the early stage of Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia can often sense exclusion from the conversation, and are already sensitive to their memory problems. Treat them both with respect, and if you want an update on your father, ask him directly or check with your mother when he is not in the same room.
Expect that She May Have Good Days and Bad Days.
Don’t be surprised if one day is different from the next when you see her. Early, or mild, dementia can vary quite a bit, so it’s possible that you might not see any noticeable memory problems one day and more difficulties the next day.
Reminisce about the past.
If you’ve had the privilege of knowing the person for a long time, bring up some favorite memories from the past to reminisce about. These are great conversation starters and mood boosters.
Focus on the His Abilities, Rather than His Impairments.
Although his memory may be declining, draw attention to his remaining skills. If he is great at doing puzzles, bring one to him and work on it together. If his gift is gardening, ask him for some tips on how to grow your tomatoes. Seek out his areas of strength and emphasize them.
Alzheimer’s Association. Communication and Alzheimer’s. Accessed June 20, 2012. http://www.alz.org/care/dementia-communication-tips.asp
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. Communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s. Accessed June 20, 2012. http://www.alzinfo.org/08/treatment-care/communicating-with-someone-who-has-alzheimers