RANCHO SANTA FE — Alzheimer’s disease affects patients, family members and friends. For caregivers who take care of someone afflicted with Alzheimer’s, effective communication strategies can be helpful on a day-to-day basis.
Kelly Rein, MSW from a local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association visited the Rancho Santa Fe Library to discuss caregiver strategies.
Her goal, she told attendees, was to explain the communication changes that take place throughout the course of the disease, how to decode the verbal and behavioral messages delivered by someone with dementia and respond in ways that are helpful to the person, and to identify strategies to connect and communicate at each stage.
One example in the early stages of the disease is when they may ask a caregiver for that “thing” on the table. That “thing” may be the remote control but they may communicate that need in a nonspecific way.
“They may talk around that word until they get to it or they’re offering up a suggestion,” she said, adding how the caregiver can help fill in the blank for that word. “What you may find is the conversations are taking longer because that person is trying to ask us that word or that thought that they were talking about.”
An effective way to give a person the extra time they need is to wait 30 seconds and count to three, afterward. Rein also noted that a caregiver might want to start speaking more slowly and concisely.
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Rein said, a person may feel a sense of shame. They may also be wary of making a mistake.
“Oftentimes in their early stage, that person may be choosing to withdraw from a conversation because it’s difficult for them,” she said, noting how it’s important to involve them and draw them into a discussion.
Rein wanted everyone to know that caregivers should keep their sentences, questions, and stories straightforward and as concise as possible.
“You want to offer choices if necessary such as, ‘Would you like coffee or tea?’” she said, adding how being a caregiver can be a rollercoaster ride at times.
Rein went on to say that Alzheimer’s is a slow and progressive disease. There will be good days and bad days.
When someone is impaired by this disease, she said, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help make that person as successful as possible.
This means allowing them the time they need and including them in conversations as much as possible.
“Never talk as if the person is not in the room; and, always allow dignity and respect for that person,” she said.
Rein also acknowledged how important it is for a caregiver to take care of themselves first. Caregivers must have an outlet such as a friend’s night out, helpline, or support.
“You cannot do this alone. No one anticipates developing this disease. No one really plans for it,” she said.
It’s estimated that more than 60,000 individuals are living with Alzheimer’s in San Diego County and there are roughly 150,000 caregivers.
Rein pointed out that the Alzheimer’s Association is there for caregivers every day of the week, 24 hours a day. Their Helpline is (800) 272-3900 and caregivers and family members can learn more about their programs and services at ALZ.org.