It’s tough looking after an elderly person especially, someone who has a condition that doesn’t allow them to be as independent as they used to be. I’ve been caring for my mother who has Alzheimer’s for over 5 years now, and as her memory and motoring skills become worse, the most significant difficulties I’ve experienced while caring for my mother, is communication.
Whether it’s asking what she wants for her dinner or reminding her who I am, I’m always struggling to find a way to talk to her. This should be easy though, right? She’s my mother, I’m her child. She raised, she fed me, she clothed me. She attended all my doctor and dentist appointments with me. Well now it’s my turn to take on the maternal role.
However, there are just times I cannot find a way for her to understand me, and vice versa. Whilst juggling laundry, grocery shopping, feeding and clothing my mother, I’ve found some time efficient ways on how to take things one step at a time.
Tips for communicating with a person with Alzheimer's
- Let them know you’re there. It might sound obvious enough, but patients with disorders may not be aware of their surroundings or people. A gentle “hello, how are you doing?” or a simple touch to the hand every now and then won’t go unappreciated
- Distract them if they get upset. This is what I’ve found to be the most useful method had there ever been one! It’s often difficult for caregivers to figure out what’s wrong or what the problem is when the patient is distressed, but it’s incredibly frustrating for them when we can’t figure out the cause. Instead of investing time to find solutions, distract them with something they can relate to. For example, my mother loved getting dolled up to attend weddings and events, so I would show her all the fancy dresses she used to wear and remind her she can wear them on our next outing
- Make them feel involved. Inform the person with Alzheimer's of current events and affairs, or make them help you fold the laundry. It may be meaningless to their lifestyle, but it’ll feel nice for them to feel involved with daily routines. Making polite small talk helps them to feel included. It’ll remind them of times in the past where they were active contributors to society. This is also a good way to pass time.
- Don’t be a fuss pot. Sometimes, they like to be just as they are. It’s important to give them their independence and space. This is as important to them as it is to you. Giving them space will also improve your patience with them. Let them hold that glass of water all by themselves. Teach them how to hold a spoon or plate during dinner. This way, both you and the person with Alzheimer's are helping each other, and this creates a special bond during these difficult times
- Patience goes a long way. Cliché, I know, but it really does go a long way! A lot of people think caring for an elderly person is a lot like looking after a child. It is. But it’s far more difficult than that. Children can be taught how to dress themselves; they can remember events from the day before. Elderly people can’t necessarily do these things anymore, or not as well as they used to. It takes time and a whole lot of patience to care for any person and the best way to do so, is to take one day at a time, one step at a time.
Some motivation for caregivers of adults with Alzheimer's:
At the end of the day, you, the caregiver, are there to provide the best care you possibly can for the person suffering from symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. It’s the little things you do that help them throughout the day. They may seem likes chores at times but you’re making a huge difference in their lives. Although they're a big part of your life, you're the main part of theirs. You may be the only person the person with Alzheimer's can remember or the only person they have to talk to.
But, my final piece of advice as someone who is quite experienced in looking after the elderly (adults with and without Alzheimer's) as well as children - don’t forget to look after yourself!