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Communicating with Those Suffering From Dementia

When are senior moments not so funny anymore? As a caregiver of an elderly parent, I started noticing some signs of forgetfulness over the span of several years. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew deep down that something was wrong. Sometimes I would attend my father’s doctors’ appointments, but he seemed so normal during the visits that it seemed silly to bring up his “senior moments.” As time progressed, the little things started to become more obvious. One of the most noticeable indicators included compulsive ordering of unneeded merchandise. Many times, multiple things were ordered, or my father would misplace items that I later found in obscure places.

I am sharing this story for those of you who may have a loved one that is starting to appear forgetful. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 10 warning signs that they recommend that you share with their physician. The warning signs range from memory loss to decrease in judgement and changes in mood and personality.

You may find it increasingly difficult to communicate with your loved one. Challenges may include constantly repeating yourself or correcting the information that your loved one is sharing. Now that my father lives in an assisted living facility, I spend more time listening, rather than correcting his thoughts. A director of nursing at a local assisted living facility gave me advice about “living in their reality.” She said that by doing this, I could avoid arguments and decrease my father’s frustration, which ultimately would result in a more meaningful visit. I have taken her suggestion to heart and her philosophy has improved the relationship with my father as I have stopped pointing out where he is wrong and just go along with the conversation. I would suggest you reach out to your loved one’s physician, caregiver or support group for advice on how to best communicate with your loved one who is experiencing the early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

In Flagstaff, there are only a handful of senior living communities that can appropriately care for someone with advanced dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Be proactive and become familiar with resources and available living situations so when the time comes, you are prepared and not finding yourself in a crisis situation. Although living at home may be what your loved one prefers, you may decide that their home has become unsafe and you will need to find an alternative living facility. I would recommend getting on a waiting list, as memory care units are often filled to capacity. In addition, I would also ensure that your loved one has designated a durable power of attorney to help them make these difficult decisions when they are no longer able to do so for themselves.

“We can’t necessary change events, but we can certainly change how we respond to them,” said John B. Goodman, former chairman of the Goodman Group, and a leader in the senior living and health care industry. FBN

By Leah Veschio, RN, MSN

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