With Alzheimer’s the fear of losing the ability to express oneself can be painful, and causes frustration both for the person experiencing it and their caregiver. It’s impossible to fully prepare yourself for the emotional toll that gradually losing your language skills involves. As the illness takes hold, the caregiver is forced to find alternative ways of communicating with their loved one. This learning curve will require unending patience, tenderness and love. But taking on board some practical communication techniques will go a long way towards facilitating the process and making it all much more bearable. We’re sure the following tips will help you immensely:
1. Avoid distractions. This is especially important when it comes to carrying out ordinary activities like eating or getting ready to leave the house. We recommend simple steps like turning off the television and doing your best to ensure the atmosphere is as relaxed as possible.
2. Try to maintain eye contact. Stand directly in front of your loved one, looking them straight in the eye and talk in a relaxed but direct way. It is vitally important you radiate calm, trust and tranquility.
3. Speak slowly and clearly. Trust us - it’s much easier to get their attention if you speak in a calm, un-hurried manner than if you shout aggressively. Although it may take extraordinary will-power, remain calm at all times, as losing your patience will only complicate matters.
4. Don’t lose your sense of humor. Take time to laugh together. Enjoying life and looking for opportunities to laugh at the odd joke will help transform your house into a haven of peace and serenity. Did you know that a good sense of humor is contagious? Rest assured that if you, as a caregiver, do what you can to radiate harmony and optimism your loved one will soak up the positivity and start to feel better about life.
5. Don’t pressure them. You’ll probably find that a lot of your questions go unanswered, especially if you’re asking them to try and remember something. This will no doubt cause them a lot more stress than you, so don’t try to pressure them to come up with a quick answer. Rather do your best to put them at ease and if you feel they’re unlikely to come up with an answer try to divert their attention with some less stressful activities.
6. Do your best to express yourself without words. Facial expressions and body language are great when it comes to expressing yourself. Gesturing, smiling and trying hard to be expressive will really help. People with Alzheimer’s tend to pick up on facial expressions and body language better than actual words. Smiling has the added bonus of sending signals to your brain telling it you’re happy – which, in turn, releases even more endorphins. It’s a win–win situation!
7. Keep your language simple. Can you imagine how frustrating it must be to find yourself suddenly unable to do something you’ve done perfectly well all your life? So the simpler, clearer and more concise your language is, the easier it will be to understand. It’s also important to check you’ve been understood by using phrases like, “Ok, now we’re going to go over what we’ve said”.
8. Be patient. Be patient and repeat what you have to say as many times as necessary. Has your loved one really understood? Try explaining it in a different way – if at all possible using simpler language. Smiling more and actively trying to give off ‘calm vibes’ will also help. We know it’s all too easy to lose control as feelings of frustration are running high, but please believe us when we say that patience can be learnt. And with time you’ll find you’re reacting patiently without even realizing it.
9. Don’t treat them like a child. Your loved one isn’t a child so don’t treat them like one. Avoid scolding and shouting. Never treat them as if they were a two-year-old. Obviously, we’re not saying you shouldn’t treat them with tenderness, but showing affection doesn’t mean being patronizing and using childish language or treating as if they were a child with no experience in the real world. They’ve got a life-time of experience and whether you realize it or not, a lot of the time they’re aware of the fact that they’re struggling to behave like a mature adult and it pains them.
10. Always say ‘thank you’. This is a great way to reward behavior you want to encourage. Without being patronizing, praise them when they use their initiative to get something done on their own. It’s a great way to build up their self-esteem and help give them a feeling of self-worth.
Author: Purificación Salgado, Journalist
Last Modification: April 12, 2017
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