Focus on feelings, not facts
If a person adoringly says, “I have seven grandchildren,” focus on the blessings, not the fact that, in reality, they may only have four. This keeps you from being “that mean daughter who is always correcting me,” says Pamela Atwood, director of Dementia Care Services at Hebrew HealthCare in West Hartford, Connecticut. “If the person says, ‘I’m worried that Buddy isn’t home from school yet,’ provide reassurance that Buddy is safe—even though you know Buddy is 53 and at work.” One of the quickest ways to lose an emotional connection with your loved one who has dementia is by putting them in their place—even politely. “If your loved one believes it’s snowing outside, even in mid-July, it’s not worth correcting her, as she’s only going to feel bad that you are arguing with her and she likely won’t believe you anyways,” FitzPatrick says. What you can do instead is give lots of genuine compliments. “Compliments combat reduced self-worth and self esteem, and make you feel good, too,” says Atwood. Here’s what caregivers can expect from the 7 stages of Alzheimer’s disease progression.
Incorporate the arts into your interactions
Studies show that using the arts can bypass certain effects of Alzheimer’s, enhance communication and emotional connection, as well as create new pathways in the brain with which to access memories. “Music, in particular, is very calming and can lift the spirit of a person with Alzheimer’s,” says Yuval Malinsky, CEO at Vigorous Mind, Inc., an organization that helps dementia patients communicate with their family and friends. “Play him or her music or musicals that you know makes them happy or evokes positive feelings and memories.” And don’t hesitate to sing along—even if it feels silly. It often surprises family and friends that the patient with Alzheimer’s or dementia may still be able to sing even if she can’t talk. “When the activities you previously enjoyed together become increasingly difficult, you may have to adapt the activity or explore new ones,” says Holbrook. The person with dementia is becoming more reliant on experience rather than words for connection—and touch is very effective. As certain activities become less available, simply replace them with new ones. Listening to music together, going to the movie theater, or exploring the community garden are great lower-key activities that can have you chatting without relying on past experiences to keep the conversation rolling.
Create a list of joys
Favorite books, songs, foods, holidays, pets, vacation destinations, etc., all provide wonderful topics for reminiscing and help you both remember what makes you smile together. Share photos and look at pictures together to remind them of the time captured in the images. “Long-term memories tend to survive longer than short term ones, so start telling them a story from long ago that involves them,” suggests Tracey Lawrence, founder of Grand Family Planning LLC. “Ask them to join in with details, but don’t be too persistent, as sometimes they may remember but have trouble understanding what you say to them.” Favorite movies or TV shows are also a great way to connect, especially when they involve some humor. Here’s how nostalgic thoughts boost happiness.