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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Alzheimer’s Family Day Center

Alz_FamDayCareLocated in Fairfax, Virginia, the Alzheimer’s Family Day Center (AFDC) is the only adult day health center in the Washington, DC metro area for adults with Alzheimer’s disease in the mid to late stages of Alzheimer’s and other related dementia. For those in the early stages, the Social Club meets for a half-day once a week. Founded in 1984 by visionary Dr. Lin Noyes Simon, AFDC just celebrated its 25th anniversary. As a founding director of the first and only dementia-specific day-care center in Northern Virginia, Dr. Simon turned a concept of care into a viable nonprofit business that increases the quality of life for people with dementia and their families.

Alzheimer's Family Day Center

Alzheimer's Family Day Center

Part of the mission of this organization is education. They offer training programs for caregivers and they practice and improve the skills and techniques in their programs. They also offer classes for caregivers on many aspects including medical, legal, financial, community resources, how to build coping skills.

The Alzheimer’s Family Day Center is a full care facility providing breakfast, lunch, and two snacks each day. Additionally medical services and transportation are provided. They can accommodate up to 34 participants with a 1:4 staff ratio. Fees cover 40% of their budget; fund raising and grants cover the rest. Scholarships are provided for those that cannot afford the fees. Level II care for the middle stages of Alzheimer’s and runs from $730 to $1533 per month, depending on the number of days the client attends. Level III care for late stage dementia ranges from $830 to $1743 per month.

On the day I visited, the group was actively engaged in a game. One aide was seated right outside of the restrooms ready to assist while another sat right outside of the game room also ready to assist. Another staff member was cleaning the bright dining room. It’s a very pleasant facility with an upbeat staff.

Nancy Dezan, Executive Director, said day care is not for everyone. People think that their loved ones won’t like it, but once they attend, they think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. She asked me why I thought my family never sent my father to day care. Well, they tried it, but my mother (as my father’s primary caretaker) felt it was so much work to prepare him to go out. Furthermore, they had to be ready when their transportation arrived. Nancy said this was a typical answer for many families.

To see how you can help, visit the AFDC Web site.

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