Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Communications in Alzheimer's World

The most important part of the equation is understanding that something has to change and that something is you.
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

In order to communicate effectively with someone suffering from Alzheimer's you need to learn an entirely new way to communicate. Sound easy? It isn't.

We all develop certain patterns of communication over the course of our life. This is the way we communicate.

Most of you probably know a family filled with hot blooded Italians. You might observe them fighting or arguing all the time. You might also notice that they do this, and then almost immediately they shrug it off, acting as if nothing had happen. I suspect this kind of behavior goes across ethnic boundaries.

During the course of your life, you might have learned to correct someone when they say something that is not true. Or, correct them when they get their facts mixed up.

If someone says something mean to you it is likely that you get angry. It wouldn't be unusual for a person to respond to meanness by saying something mean or nasty. You would probably end up apologizing for your behavior and this would defuse the conflict and bad feelings. Make things all better.

You learned all these communication behaviors over the course of your entire life. They are embedded in your personality.

Then Alzheimer's disease comes into your life.

Alzheimer's is a brand new World. It is not your world, and even though you live part of your life in this world, if you had a choice you wouldn't.

When you are the ONE you don't have the choice of leaving Alzheimer's world and going to another place. The reality is clear. You are going to spend years, maybe many years of your life, where a certain fraction of your time -- minutes, hours and days -- are spent in Alzheimer's world.

Many of the communication skills and behaviors that you learned in the world outside Alzheimer's world won't work in Alzheimer's world. In fact, the same communication skills and behaviors that allowed you to make sense of the world around you over the course of your life, will make your life in Alzheimer's world worse.

In order to communicate effectively in Alzheimer's world you need to change. The first thing you need to do is start listening. Listen to the person when they repeat themselves or say something mean. Look at their face. In what context are they repeating themselves? Is it when they sit in a certain chair? At a certain time or period during the day? Pay very close attention to the time of day, or the day of the week that these behaviors are occurring. See if you can discern a pattern.

If you can start anticipating the behavior of someone suffering from Alzheimer's then you will soon learn that when the behavior happens it won't seem so disconcerting.

When you finally learn to anticipate certain behaviors, to anticipate behaviors, you might find that instead of driving you crazy these behaviors might in fact become another part of your day.

Your day in Alzheimer's world.

This is only one example. The point today is simple. Once you come to a realization that there is a new world called Alzheimer's world you might finally be able to accept it as part of your life.

Once you accept Alzheimer's world as part of your life, you'll start to have a very different view of the behaviors. You will expect and anticipate these behaviors. Alzheimer's behavior will become a natural part of your life. Not a foreign part of your life.

Understanding that something needs to change is a first step. Understanding that the person suffering from Alzheimer's disease can't and won't change is one part of the equation.

The most important part of the equation is understanding that something has to change and that something is you.
Change is always difficult. In this case made more difficult by the fact that you have been communicating in a certain way over your entire life.

Please note. You won't be changing the way you communicate with family and friends. You will be changing the way you communicate with the person suffering from Alzheimer's disease. You'll need to learn to swith gears. To move seemlessly from world to world.

This won't be easy. But if, if you do it you will change your own life and in a way that you could have never expected.

I suggest you take the time to read these two articles:

Communicating in Alzheimer's World
Alzheimer's World -- Two Circles Trying to Intersect

I'll be writing more about communication in Alzheimer's World in the weeks ahead. I'll make specific suggestions to help you reach the intersection that exists between you and the person suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

It is while in this intersection that life for both parties improves.

More About the Alzheimer's Reading Room

The Alzheimer's Action Plan
300 Tips for Making Life Easier

Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. Bob has written more than 1,400 articles with more than 9,000 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.
Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room

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