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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Why Humor?

Ronald P. Culberson

Ronald P. Culberson

Last week I attended the 23rd Annual Caregiver Conference, Shedding Light on Dementia Care. Ronald P. Culberson, author of Is Your Glass Laugh Full? opened the session. His speech titled, “”Humor and Caregiving: How to Lighten Up When Things Get Heavy,” was well received by the audience of about 200. On a dreary, wet day in Fairfax, VA, what better way to open a conference than a speaker talking about why humor.

In stressing why humor, Culberson said humor is a way to do two things:

  1. Manage stress
  2. Connect with others

As a way to manage stress, he said if you can laugh in the midst of stress, it cannot overwhelm you. He emphasized that you have to see humor all the time, otherwise you won’t be able to deal with it when you’re stressed. Humor is always there if you’re always on the lookout for it. In our world, however, Culberson said sometimes we seem to love to “out negative” each other.

Second, humor can help us connect with other people. We tend to like people with a sense of humor. When you share humor, funny things happen; it changes the relationship. Hence, humor should be used as a tool.Is your glass laugh full

I bought a copy of Culberson’s book, Is Your Glass Laugh Full? at the conference. Somewhat autobiographical in nature, he shares incidents in his life and presents them in a delightful, humorous fashion. It’s a book that’s difficult to stop reading. Being a primary caretaker is not easy and extremely stressful. I highly recommend this book to remove some of the stress.

If there was a simple recipe for care-taking, life would be a lot easier. But every case is different. For example, I met someone at the conference whose husband has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He will not cooperate and listen to anyone and hence, she’s unable to bring in outside help. He sleeps during the day and is up all night. This conference was a good chance for her and others to get away for the day and get some ideas from the wonderful attendees, speakers, and vendors.

Sponsored by The Northern Virginia Dementia Care Consortium, I was not aware of it previously (probably because my attention was not focused on Alzheimer’s), but I’m definitely looking forward to it next year.

One of the grestest lessons I’ve learned about humor is that it is all around us, in every corner of our lives. If we keep our humor antennae up and look for laughs we’ll find reasons to smile every day. ~Ron Culberson in Is Your Glass Laugh Full?

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