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