RANCHO SANTA FE — For a caregiver, family member or friend who is struggling in communicating with a loved one who has memory loss, the Alzheimer’s Association will be presenting its next complimentary series, “Compassionate Communication,” at the RSF Library Oct. 16.
Lynn Mullowney, associate director of Major and Planned Giving at the Alzheimer’s Association, described its Compassionate Communication curriculum as one of the most powerful tools available in caring for someone with a memory loss disorder.
When communicating with a person who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, she said, all the normal rules of engagement change.
“Compassionate Communication rests on one core tenet: You can’t control their memory loss, only your reaction to it,” she said. “Learning the art of Compassionate Communication helps caregivers and family members understand how to respond to frequently frustrating situations.”
Mullowney shared one common behavior is repetition. She wants people to know that a person with Alzheimer’s may do or say something over and over, such as repeating a word, question or activity.
Mullowney understands how this behavior may cause tension for the caregiver, but it’s important to be reminded that in these instances, a person is seeking comfort, familiarity, and above all, security.
The disease is causing the behavior, she said, not the person.
“In addition to affecting memory and other cognitive skills, Alzheimer’s disease often affects the way people feel and act. Many people find the behavior changes caused by Alzheimer’s to be the most challenging and distressing effect of the disease,” she said. Mullowney continued, “The chief cause of behavioral symptoms is the progressive deterioration of brain cells.”
She also pointed out that certain types of medications, medical issues or environmental factors may exacerbate those symptoms.
In the early stages, Mullowney said, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease may undergo changes such as depression, anxiety, and irritability.
As the disease progresses, other levels of behavior and personality changes may include, agitation, anger, verbal or physical outbursts, sleep disturbances, restlessness, and emotional distress.
While the disease advances, the caregiver’s approach must be altered, as well.
“Changes in behavior can be challenging, but we have resources to help families and caregivers through each stage of the disease,” she said. “By consistently using Compassionate Communication, caregivers can significantly improve the quality of life for all involved.”
During the class series, attendees will be given tips for effective communication.
For Mullowney, asking a person with Alzheimer’s to remember is like asking a blind person to see.
“Reminders are rarely kind. They tell the person how disabled they are –– over and over again,” she said. “Refer only to the present or the future.”
In example, Mullowney pointed out if the loved one is hungry, a caregiver should refrain from reminding them they ate an hour ago. Instead, plan a time for a light snack within that hour.
Attendees will also be taught what to do when asked a question repeatedly.
“Graciously respond as if it’s the first time. Some days they seem normal, but they’re not. They live in a different reality. Reminders won’t bring them into yours,” she said.
During this educational series, also highlighted will be the “Do’s and Don’ts” of Compassionate Communication.
Mullowney said that Alzheimer’s is on the rise and its being called the epidemic of this generation.
“It threatens to double by 2030, to over 120,000 people in our area alone and over 10 million throughout the country. Even in the face of such large numbers, Alzheimer’s is an incredibly isolating disease and people need to know that we are here to help,” she said.
While the Oct. 16 free venue will be held at the RSF Library at 4:30 to 6:30 pm, Vista Gardens, a Memory Care Community, will provide refreshments. Please RSVP to (858) 492-4400.
The next series, “The Latest In Alzheimer’s Research” is slated for Nov. 13. Call (800) 272-3900 for details.