Caregiving and Communication, Part 2
In last week’s blog, we discussed several communication strategies that caregivers can employ when talking to others. These suggestions were primarily appropriate for people who are able to give the same level of attention and communication skills back. But, what if you are communicating with someone who cannot respond or listen at the same level you can? This situation normally arises when you are caring for someone who is cognitively impaired. The most common situation in the context of elder care is caring for a loved one who has a degenerative neurological disorder. Disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other related dementias affect peoples’ ability to communicate because these disorders negatively impact parts of the brain. In this blog, we will provide some useful tips to help you communicate with your loved one if they are living with a degenerative neurological disorder.
Dementia degrades portions of the brain, negatively impacting memory, the ability to talk, communicate, and manage behavior. All of this makes communication between your loved one, who may be living with the disorder, and yourself, the caregiver, very difficult. Because dementia degrades memory, your loved one may forget what certain things are called. Or, your loved one may have lost most of their ability to talk. On the other hand, this reduced ability to communicate can lead to feelings of frustration and anger, causing your loved one to behave negatively. All of these situations require unique communication strategies. Consider them below:
Do not Interrupt Your Loved One: If your loved one is having a hard time phrasing something, it is not a good idea to sound impatient and/or interrupt them when they speak. Instead, help when it is appropriate, but allow your loved one to speak to you. If they are having a difficult time remembering a word, and you know what it is, then you can gently and politely remind them.
Ask Simple Questions: Reduced ability to remember things is a symptom of dementia. If you are talking to your loved one, it is not a good idea to ask open-ended questions or ask questions that require a lot of detail. Instead, ask your loved one simple “yes” or “no” questions to reduce the chances of your loved one getting lost during the conversation. If you take a few moments to think before you speak, almost any question can be turned into the yes/no format.
Manage Negative Behaviors: Sometimes, people who have Alzheimer’s or any other related disorder experience delusions, and as a result feel confusion, frustration, anger, or become upset for reasons that are hard to pinpoint. These are common symptoms of dementia. For example, your loved one may claim that their wallet or purse has been stolen, but you know that this is not possible. Because they are now angry, upset, and confused, their behaviors become difficult to manage. This situation involves three steps.
(1) Acknowledge the Problem: If your loved one is upset by a situation that is not easily solvable, then acknowledge the situation anyways. Tell them that you understand what they are upset about and that you want to help them. This tells your loved one that you take their feelings seriously.
(2) Distract: The next step is to distract your loved one by asking them if they want to go in another room or if they want to follow you into the kitchen for a glass of water. This helps refocus the situation on something else.
(3) Change the Subject: After you have completed the above steps, try changing the subject completely. Perhaps you can turn on their favorite music and let them listen to it. Or you could bring out a scrapbook and flip through it with them. This allows their mind to focus on something completely different, allowing the previous negative experience to pass.
These situations are easier said than done. So, if you have any other questions, feel free to call ElderCare at Home at 888-285-0093 or visit our website for more information!