Did you know that about 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and African Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or dementia as white Americans? Because of those staggering numbers, it is important to learn how to effectively communicate with a loved one that may suffer from either life-altering issue.
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Joining us today to talk about how to effectively communicate with someone with dementia is Ty Lewis. She’s a certified dementia practitioner, educator, and owner of In Case I Forget Consulting.
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ERICA: So let’s jump right in and talk about ways to effectively communicate with someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Starting with repetition, how important is repetition?
TY: So repetition is extremely important and it’s a great strategy for individuals who have cognitive disorders. One of the things that I often tell people is individuals who’ve been diagnosed with dementia can only hold something that you said to them for a few seconds in their brain. So once you tell them, they automatically forgotten. So when you repeat something and gently remind them of the task or activity they’re supposed to complete, it eliminates frustration, confusion, and behaviors that they may exhibit because they are frustrated because they can’t complete what you’ve asked them to do.
ERICA: Should we be watching our body language when we talk to someone who has dementia?
TY: Yes, body language is so important. Just think about us. What if someone ran up on us the wrong way, we’ll be ready to fight. So when you think about, you know, individuals who have been diagnosed with dementia, one of the things that they lose first is their ability to express themselves in their speech and language. And so, you know, people who have been diagnosed with dementia can sense emotions. And so they understand when we’re when our body language is off, or when we’re mad or sad or happy. So as the disease progresses, that’s one of the ways that they communicate. And our body language serves as a form of nonverbal communication. Our approach, facial expressions, touch movement, you know, etc, convey meaning in our feelings. So we should always approach them with a smile, and a calm manner, and positively for them to understand that you know what I mean, not be able to communicate what I’m feeling. But I see that you’re coaching me in a peaceful way. And it keeps them safe.
GRIFF: you say Don’t ask questions, but make statements. Explain what you mean by that.
TY: Yeah, sure. So we can ask questions, or simple questions, such as, Do you want an apple? Or do you want a banana? And so when I’m saying Don’t ask questions, don’t ask open-ended questions like, What did you eat for lunch today? This is a big one. Do you know who I am? No, they don’t know where you, you know, they don’t know who you are. Because they have a cognitive disability. And so a lot of us make the mistake, especially when we’re visiting around the holidays. Hey, do you know who I am? What’s my name? That’s another one. And they don’t so it stresses them. If frustrates them? You know, it causes a lot of confusion. Because you’re asking them to pull information from short-term memory and they don’t have it. Yeah, yeah. So don’t find a process. And it’s hard.
ERICA: So much, so many of us are struggling and it’s hard. It’s hard to love. And watch them. Forget you. How should we process that emotion?
TY: Oh, my God, it’s so hard in the beginning, because my mom has no recollection of who I am. She doesn’t know that she has a younger child. She doesn’t even know that I exist. So in the beginning, it was so hard. I used to cry all of the time. But now I go with the flow. And I just tell myself, Ty, you have a mother that’s still here. And even though she doesn’t know who you are, she knows that every day. She’s secure and safe with someone who loves her.