As caregiver for a senior or multiple seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia related difficulties, it can be problematic trying to communicate clearly and efficiently. The combination of confusion and memory loss can make it hard for the senior to communicate when they are tired, hungry, or in pain from something. Conditions can even turn worse, with some patients exhibiting odd changes in mood, irrational thinking, and erratic behavior. They may even begin to make false accusations or have public outbursts.
Alzheimer’s and dementia behaviors are upsetting enough on their own, but they may begin to impact the quality of care you can offer to your senior loved one. In order to improve the communication between yourself and your senior, here are some common communication techniques that will help to defuse tensions and provide reassurance in times of confusion.
How to Deal with False Accusations from Seniors with Alzheimer’s
Seniors with dementia may sometimes be prone to making false accusation towards caregivers and people close to them, including family members. Accusations can range from minor offenses to serious ones like theft and abuse. This type of behavior is ultimately hurtful for your relationship and shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, it’s important to keep in mind that dementia patients may say these things because their broken brain is telling them that they are true. The gaps in memory and the sense of confusion are only there as a result of the Alzheimer’s, and so the brain simply tries to fill in the gaps. This creates what is called confabulation, also called “honest lying”.
According to occupational therapist and dementia expert Teepa Snow, confabulation can be a powerful trick on the mind, and people with dementia can even pass lie detector tests because they believe their story is true. In most scenarios your senior will be making a mistake, but you won’t be able to convince them they are wrong. In situations such as this, it is best to avoid confrontation and false accusations. You should start by empathizing with and validating your loved one’s feelings.
An example could be, if your senior’s purse is missing and they are accusing a caregiver of stealing it, apologizing and asking to search the house one last time to be sure. When you find the purse, you should avoid saying I told you so, as it may put your loved one on the defense. If you cannot find the purse, you should reassure your senior and promise to follow up. Just do not accuse them of lying or being mistaken.
How to Deal with Insults and Inappropriate Comments from Seniors with Alzheimer’s
We all think inappropriate thoughts sometimes that we wouldn’t say out loud, but seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s may have significantly less impulse control. Dementia patients are infamous for outburst, including insults, obscenities, and even sexual comments among family and even in public. It can be difficult to be around someone like this because you may feel like they are unpredictable and indifferent to how they make you feel.
These types of outbursts may be due to damage from Alzheimer’s that occurs on the left side of the brain. This side is responsible for governing vocabulary and higher speech capabilities. The right side contains more social and emotional language, so instead of being able to process and communicate what they think, dementia patients may quickly revert to curse words and emotional reactions stored in the right brain. This means that if a heavyset man walks by, your mother may not be able to help blurting out something about him being fat.
The correct way to respond in these situations is to not react in anger or to make a big deal of them. Instead, you should just acknowledge your loved one’s actions and if necessary, remove yourselves from the situation. For example, if you have an outburst at a restaurant you may want to both go for a walk around the building or a visit to the restroom. Another possibility is to carry around cards that say “Please excuse my loved one’s outbursts and unusual behavior. He/she has a condition that causes confusion and memory loss. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”
How to Help Seniors with Alzheimer’s Find the Right Words
Dementia can significantly impair word comprehension and basic recall for vocabulary words, making what would normally be everyday conversation an arduous process. The difficulty of this can cause friction between seniors and caregivers when it begins to impede on timeliness and expectations. There’s a fine line between asking for a senior to clarify something and overwhelming them with questions that confuse and frustrate them. So if they are struggling to describe what they need, you can start by asking one question at a time and making it specific. For example, what color is the item? Could you show me what you use it for? Where is it usually used?
When it comes to handling your senior’s Alzheimer’s and dementia related symptoms, doctors recommend not being confrontational about their beliefs. Instead, try joining in on the experience and finding ways to subtly defuse the scenario. Try to refrain from using explaining that what they are seeing is not real or all in their head. Confronting them may cause aggravation and resentment, so validate how they are feeling. Ask them what they say and explain that you can’t see it but would like to know more about what is happening to them. If someone is experiencing dementia symptoms, it is important to empathize and do your best to determine the cause and work with them. Recognizing the causes and possible solutions for dementia related symptoms can help you and your senior keep calm during an episode and to endure symptoms healthily. To learn more about dementia and alzheimer's care, or care tips for individuals in senior living facilities, visit Landmark Senior Living.