A couple of years ago, I wrote about a wonderful Alzheimer’s disease (AD) resource in Fairfax County, Virginia located about 15 miles south of Washington, DC, the Alzheimer’s Family Day Center (AFDC). Not only are they a day care center for AD patients, but they have excellent programs for caregivers. I recently attended one such program on communicating with Alzheimer’s patients.

Titled “Understanding the Person with Dementia: How to Communicate Effectively,” it was presented by Susan Stone who is with AFDC and does outreach and education. Susan is an excellent communicator herself and interacts with the audience extremely well. I want to share some of her thoughts in this article and I will continue next month.

Because communication is only 7% verbal and the rest nonverbal, it is important to not limit your communication to just words. People with Alzheimer’s prefer not to talk on the phone and initiating phone calls is difficult. They have difficulty keeping up with conversation and may not understand your words. Their attention span is limited and they may have trouble finding the correct word. Furthermore, they may pick up only every three to four words.

For example, the conversation may sound like this:

___ WANT ___  ___  ___ GET ___  ___  ___ TAKE ___  ___  ___ . WE ___  ___  ___ APPOINTMENT ___  ___  ___  ___ WE ___  ___  ___ BEFORE ___  ___  ___ HOME.

NOW ___  ___ HURRY.

Here is the entire message:

I WANT you to GET up now and TAKE a good shower. WE have a doctor’s APPOINTMENT at 11:00 and WE can have LUNCH before we go HOME.

NOW please just HURRY!

Getting angry and adding a sharp tone of voice is not going to make this message any easier for the AD person to decipher. Here are some suggestions Susan offered:

  • Restating key words will help.
  • Give one direction at a time.
  • No rushing – time does not mean anything to an AD person.

Here are further suggestions repeating just the key words.

  • Get up. (Offer your hand).
  • Shower.

This is all the person needs to know at this point. They don’t really need to know about the appointment and having lunch is too far in the future to mention it now. You want them to take a shower and all they might remember is having lunch.

More suggestions will be coming next month. I hope this gives some understanding as to why communication is so challenging for those with dementia.

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I saw an ad in a favorite little periodical I receive called the Golden Gazette. It’s published for senior adults in the county I live in. The ad read: Healthy Adults 40 & Older Needed for Research Study. That caught my attention. I read further:

The ARCH Lab at George Mason University, Fairfax campus, needs healthy adults age 40 to 65 to participate in behavior studies on memory and attention.

Bingo! I qualified age-wise and I’m definitely interested in anything related to memory. I e-mailed them immediately and was accepted into the longitudinal four-year study. There was a small monetary compensation, but I didn’t care about that. I was curious to see what the testing was about and if they are going to track me over a four-year period, then I’d definitely be interested in any changes that may occur.

The official name of the study is “Allelic Association to Study the Genetics of Cognitive Aging.” As defined by the Genetics Home Reference, an allele is one of two or more versions of a gene. An individual inherits two alleles for each gene, one from each parent. Click on the Genetics Home Reference link for more information.

According to the Consent Form that I signed, the research is being conducted to study the effect of normal variation in genes on processes of attention and memory in both healthy individuals and those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. They hope to better understand the role of genetics in individual differences in attention and memory.

The test was comprised of several parts using the computer, paper and pencil, getting cheek cells for DNA analysis. An MRI would be done at a separate time, if one is interested.

Parts of the test were quite long which tested your attention span. Included in the computer test were the following:

  • A set of dot(s) flashed and you needed to determine if the second set of dot(s) was in the same position as the first.
  • A group of letters was presented and every time it included a pink “T” you needed to push a button.
  • Each time a vowel flashed you needed to push a button.

Included in the non-computer test were the following:

  • Puzzle completion
  • Repeating a story that was read
  • Vocabulary — defining words
  • You were read a series of mixed up letters and numbers and you needed to put them in order, numbers first (from memory)
  • Reciting numbers backwards by 7

Results of the study are for research only and the identity of the participants will not be revealed. Participation is voluntary and you can withdraw at any time. I’m glad to have George Mason University close by and to have the opportunity to participate.

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