June is National Effective Communications Month. Being able to express oneself in a clear and understandable manner helps decrease misinterpretation, confusion and conflict. But what are we to do when a disease of the brain causes a family member to experience more and more difficulty expressing thoughts and emotions? That’s exactly the challenge faced by families who have a loved one battling Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.
A Memory Care neighborhood like the one at a Regency Senior Living community provides the attention and compassion that seniors and their families need in such a situation. Our caregivers work with the Alzheimer’s Association to deliver strategies of treatment that allow our residents to retain their dignity and remain connected to their pasts through a variety of activities.
Day-to-day communication can be extremely frustrating for a family member attempting to serve the role of caregiver to someone impacted by dementia. It is heartbreaking to see the progression of the disease, as the senior struggles to find the right words, becomes repetitive, loses his or her train of thought, and relies on gestures more than speaking.
Once Alzheimer’s reaches the late stage, around-the-clock care is usually needed.
In Regency’s Memory Care neighborhood, residents are surrounded with the familiar. A jukebox might be playing songs that the senior knew as a teenager. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, music may help them to function at a higher cognitive level. Tunes can engage them in singing, rhythm playing, dancing, physical exercise, and other structured activities. Ballads and lullabies have been shown to calm someone during moments of agitation or when preparing for bed. Soothing sounds can provide a sense of comfort.
Regency regularly welcomes musical entertainers who may perform for Memory Care residents, often evoking a response of familiarity because our shared cultural connection to music invites an emotional reaction. Like anyone listening to a song to fit a given mood, the residents enjoy reconnecting with songs from their generation. The sounds of Elvis and Sinatra are quite familiar to those of us who live and work in our halls.
Our community has recently become certified for a pilot program called Music and Memory. There have been instances where seniors with dementia have been unresponsive until headphones are placed on their ears and familiar tunes from their youth are played on an iPod. Even after the headphones are removed, the power of music moves seniors to reacquire their cognitive faculties for a time. It reawakens feelings they haven’t felt in years.
Appealing to the visual senses as well, the furniture and decorations in a typical Memory Care neighborhood use cheerful colors and may even resemble a corner drug store with a soda fountain or jukebox, just like the ones residents likely visited as children. Such an environment can prove helpful in breaking through the fog of confusion. Baby dolls can also offer comfort to some Memory Care residents.
Another way to effectively communicate with a person dealing with Alzheimer’s is to minimize distractions, going to a quiet place and limiting conversations to one-on-one interactions. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends speaking clearly and slowly, avoiding lengthy requests. Maintaining eye contact and speaking slowly may also help.
“Sometimes the emotions being expressed are more important than what is being said. Look for the feelings behind words or sounds,” the Alzheimer’s Association states on its website. “Treat the person with dignity and respect. Avoid talking down to the person or as if he or she isn’t there. It’s OK if you don’t know what to do or say; your presence and friendship are most important to the person.”
Maintaining a connection with their past and with their relationships is key to Regency’s Memory Care activities. Photos of loved ones and objects of personal significance may be displayed prominently inside a resident’s apartment. It is important for residents to feel at home and for their families to possess the peace of mind that they are safe while enjoying stimulating activities for a higher quality of life.
One resource that may interest families is The Alzheimer’s Caregiver Buddy, which teaches how to deal with wandering, bathing, and meals. It also provides live help 24 hours a day by clicking and calling the Alzheimer's Association toll-free 24-hour helpline at 1-800-272-3900.
Until science provides us with the key to preventing dementia cases in future generations, Memory Care offers a valuable resource for families struggling to effectively communicate with an elder affected by Alzheimer’s.
For more tips on communicating with persons suffering from Alzheimer’s or another dementia, visit alz.org/commtips. For more information about the Music & Memory program, visit https://musicandmemory.org/.
Written by: Steven Stiefel
When mild forgetfulness turns into serious memory problems, seniors and their families have to accept the difficult new reality that Alzheimer’s disease may be forever changing their lives. Recognizing dementia early on is key to ensuring that a loved one receives the highest quality of care and can adequately express his or her wishes for the future.
A medical exam is the first step in getting answers. A doctor can run tests to rule out other causes for symptoms such as forgetting the names of family members or important dates. Someone with Alzheimer’s may withdraw from social activities, display rapid mood swings for no discernable reason, display poor judgment, misplace things, and generally become easily confused.
Seniors may feel a range of emotions upon receiving confirmation, from a sense of relief to know what’s wrong to anger that life is taking a different course then the one they had planned. Knowing that they are not alone in confronting the disease provides relief from some of the stress.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that families do not put off difficult conversations about preparing for the future. Eventually, Alzheimer’s progresses to the point of affecting everyday life and incapacitating the ability to make decisions about treatment, management of assets and legal arrangements. Someone with the disease may live for many years after receiving the initial diagnosis – the quality of their life depends greatly on the choices made in the early stages when they make their wishes known and get their affairs in order.
“As the disease progresses, you will need the support of those who know and understand you. Concealing or denying your diagnosis will limit your ability to cope with the challenges ahead,” the Alzheimer’s Association advises on its website www.alz.org. “Putting legal, financial and end-of-life plans in place is one of the most important steps you can take. It allows you to participate in making decisions that help family and friends know your wishes.”
Planning for the future includes:
These can be very difficult topics to bring up, especially when the senior and his or her family are still feeling overwhelmed by the diagnosis and fearful of what lies ahead. “If you don't have an honest talk about these topics, how will others know and respect your wishes?” the Alzheimer’s Association asks on its website. “Ideally, it's best to express your wishes now while you are able to make decisions for yourself. Addressing your wishes with family members, your care team or a legal professional will ensure that your expressed requests will be followed when appropriate.”
While many family members will take on the caregiver role in their home, Regency Senior Living offers secure memory care in many of our communities, offering the person with dementia a structured environment and specially trained caregivers working around the clock to maintain seniors’ dignity and comfort. To learn more about Regency Senior Living, call (615) 598-0245.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers tools on its website for Alzheimer’s patients. Alzheimer's Navigator® is an online assessment program that helps you create an action plan to meet your specific needs. It also connects you to information, support and local resources. Learn more at https://www.alzheimersnavigator.org/