What do you say when someone asks for a person who has passed away? What do they want when they’re yelling for help but nothing is wrong? What do you do when a person with this diagnosis thinks you’ve stolen something from them? What are they really trying to communicate and how should you respond? Communication with progressive Alzheimer’s dementia can be beyond difficult or confusing at times. Think about and consider answering from your heart.

When they ask for their spouse and the spouse has been dead for years, the wrong answer is telling them they’re dead. Why would you ever want them to relive something so painful over and over? To lie or not to lie? One option is to say they aren’t available right now, that’s true in a manner of speaking. There’s a difference between misdirection and redirection. Another thought is to engage them in a conversation about that person who is being missed or mourned. Try engaging them in the feeling they are experiencing, not necessarily the conversation they have brought up. Ask yes or no questions such as:

·        Can you tell me what you miss about your husband (or wife)?

·        Did you have a happy life together?

·        Do you miss the love, hugs and kisses you shared?

·        Can you tell me why you are so sad?

·        Is there something special that you miss about your loved one?

The same applies when you are in a room and you hear the repeated “Help me! Help Me!” The person with Alzheimer’s is yelling from another room and appears as though they are in distress. You run in to see what is wrong and they just look at you. Now you are a little miffed. They don’t need HELP, they are scared you have forgotten them and they are afraid to be alone. They just need to “feel” safe and secure. If you say to them that you are just in the other room and they are okay, or invite them to come to where you are and sit in the room with you they will probably calm down.

I want to go “HOME” is another confusing request, especially when they are sitting in their own living room. Even if they are in a care community and make this request, it doesn’t mean they are looking for a “physical place.” Again, consider the “FEELING” behind the request. They are talking about a safe place in their mind, a childhood home possibly, that clearly no longer exists. The loving caress of a mom or caring gesture from dad.  Try sitting next to them, offering to get them a warm drink or blanket for comfort is a great start. Hold their hand and ask what they are needing at that moment. Again, in yes or no questions. Are you cold? Can I help warm you up? Are you scared? Can you tell me what you are thinking about right now? Find out where they are in their current reality and have a chat about it. This will let them know you understand and they will trust you.

People with memory loss are dealing from a place of fear 90% of the time. Our goal should be to make them calm and content. Speak in a low tone of voice and a slow rate of speed. Show calmness and a caring demeanor to earn their trust.

Lost items are often stored away by a person with diagnosis and then they forget where they put the item. Rings, jewelry are often in this scenario. They hide items because they are afraid they will get lost or stolen or even just for safe keeping. When they can’t recall where they put it the items they often accuse caregiver of stealing. Once again, try not to take the accusation personally. Instead, talk about the jewelry, ask questions or make comment such as:

·        I am sure that ring means the world to you!

·        Was it romantic when Dad proposed to you?

·        Was the ring something you cherished as a symbol of your love?

·        Did the ring cost a lot and you are angry because you were never able to take a honeymoon? Does that upset you still to this day? (Whatever the scenario is if you have more bac round, use it to find a reason for the feeling of frustration)

Always remember to get to the “FEELING” of the circumstance. It creates understanding and trust as well as imperative displays of empathy, sympathy and kindness to rephrase and redirect the fear and conversation to a place of calmness and contentment. Talking the situation through shows caring emotion and that you really want to comprehend what it is they your loved one is trying to convey.

Communication is difficult at times because we need tools to be resilient. You can do this! I am here to help! Please share with friends, family, and caregivers who need assistance. Join my mailing list to get upcoming newsletters!

]ill Lorentz is the President and Owner of Summit Resilience Training, Dementia Education for Caregivers. She is also the Host of KEZW Cruisin’1430am Dementia Resilience with Jill Lorentz which airs Sunday’s 10:00-10:30 am MST. Jill teaches families and professionals strategies and techniques which help them to feel understood and allows them to relieve stress so they can enjoy their lives while caregiving.