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How to Connect With Someone Who Has Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Elaine Kielman
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Elaine Kielman
Remember This: When Your Loved One Has Memory Loss

As someone whose profession is creating meaningful recreation for older persons experiencing memory loss or cognitive challenges, I can honestly say that I will never be an “expert.” However, the following are some lessons I have learned and would like to pass on.
 

  1. Remove the word "remember" from your vocabulary, as in “You just had lunch, remember?” They can’t, and reminding them of it can heighten anxiety and trigger behaviors such as angry outbursts. 
     
  2. It’s hard, but try to accept the fact that you will only have moments of joy with this person. Many are unexpected.
     
  3. Putting a meaningful object in the person’s hands can trigger a meaningful memory. In my experience at Wilson Health Care Center at Asbury Methodist Village, ice cream cones often bring back vivid childhood memories.  A baseball glove, a picture, perhaps of the two of you long ago, are also positive triggers. Make a box of their personal memorabilia to rummage through.
     
  4. Pictures from their life can give back a little piece of their personhood – their wedding, first car or children. Give them back some of their greatness. However, if you put a picture in their hand and they misidentify someone, do not correct them. If you do, that communication may end.
     
  5. “How are you?”  asks them to respond. Instead, compliment them with a “Love your hair,” or “Hello! You look great today.”
     
  6. If your loved one is connecting with someone else, just observe. Don’t jump in. 
     
  7. What they loved as younger people will usually make a connection again.  Read aloud, play favorite music, go outside and see the flowers and birds. Focus on what they can do. 
     
  8. Let them teach you what works and abandon your own plans. Accept their joy. It is a gift.
     
  9. Whatever worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.
     
  10. Accept respite from family and friends even if it is just for an hour or two. Self-care is critical!

Elaine Kielman

Submitted by Elaine Kielman

Elaine Kielman is Director of Recreation and Volunteers at Asbury Methodist Village’s Wilson Health Care Center. She was named the 2013 Activity Professional of the Year by the National Association of Activity Professionals.

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