Written by Richard Yusim
Dementia should be viewed as a condition that has a spectrum of symptoms as it progresses. For this reason, each person’s history and interests should be carefully considered in order to provide the best quality of life. Like I mentioned in part one of this blog, you need to let go of any expectations you previously had for the relationship. It is now time for you to give back to your loved one by making them as comfortable as possible as they lose more and more of themselves to this insidious disease.
The first subject I want to address is verbal communication with your loved one with dementia. As stated before, while communication skills in your loved one will deteriorate, it will happen in a way specific to how your loved one’s thought processes are functioning and the rate to which the disease is progressing progression. I can only share what I’ve learned in my personal experience with my mom and treating veterans with dementia for two years in the role of activity coordinator. The most common symptom during the beginning stages of dementia is short term memory loss. For this reason, most of, if not all of your verbal interactions will need to be oriented to the present moment at all time. “Nice shoes dad!”, “do you see the bird, mom?” “You look good today grandma”. These are examples of phrases that are present oriented. Statements should be simple and short. With my mom, the simplicity and directness of questions began to not make a difference as her dementia progressed. It was as though she heard completely different words in my question and she would answer with unrelated expressions. My mom would frequently make up words too. I thought this was fascinating and I eventually learned to decode the tone of her statements and words so I could respond appropriately. For example, a phone conversation with my mom would typically sound something like the following:
Rich- Hi, Mom!
Mom- Oh, hi honey
Rich- It’s so nice to hear your voice
Mom- What? I don’t know how that is possible.
Rich- Oh yes it is, because I say so.
Mom- Well it’s all about the fa…fa…faberstopper and I don’t know what to do about it.
Rich- I think you’ll figure it out, you’re pretty smart.
Mom- Ha Ha well I can’t say that it’s the dander..na..na..natoon and I just want to make an appointment so I can see what I need to do.
Rich- That’s great mom, I’m proud of you.
Mom- You are so trapa..gaspen and you really know what it’s for…the botherkimbal
Rich- Thank you, well I love you and I learned from you.
Mom- I love you too
You’ll notice how I responded to my mom with affirmative language and as if I knew exactly what she was communicating. This became very valuable to her and she would essentially thank me at times for understanding her and she would try to tell me in her way how much it means to her. To be understood and listened to is all she wanted.