With the aging of the population, more people are likely to know someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s slowly causes changes in how people think, talk and takes care of themselves. While forgetfulness and loss of memory often are the first and most obvious signs, people with Alzheimer’s also experience loss of meaningful roles and responsibilities, diminished activities and fading social relationships.
With support and encouragement from family and friends, people with Alzheimer’s can continue to live fulfilling lives.
It is important that family and others do not minimize or dismiss the significance of what is happening to the individual. Rather, allow the person to talk about what he or she is experiencing and feeling.
Let the person know that you care by really listening — without interruption, advice giving, criticism or correction. Learn to be patient as it may take a person with Alzheimer’s longer to think about and say what is on his or her mind. It’s OK to cue someone if a thought is lost or fill in missing words if he or she has difficulty speaking.
Also, pay attention to how you communicate.
Speak slowly and clearly. Use familiar words and short, simple sentences. Non-verbal gestures — nods, smiles and a gentle touch — can provide reassurance. Don’t worry that you don’t know what to say. Be understanding and accepting and talk to the person, not about the person.
Alzheimer’s touches all members of a family, including children.
Be open with children about their loved one’s memory loss. Explain symptoms in terms that are easy to understand, for example, she may forget your name; he may say things over and over.
Prepare them for changes they may see in their loved one’s personality or behavior that might cause worry, things like she may dress inappropriately; he may blame others when he loses his belongings.
Children can experience a range of emotions in response to such changes. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and to ask questions. Help them find ways they can help their loved one, such as visiting and doing activities together.
People with Alzheimer’s may find that doing things they enjoy will help take their minds off their memory problems for a while and lend purpose to their life.
When doing things together, choose familiar activities that are stimulating and make the most of their abilities. Build on previous interests, past memories, and cultural and religious traditions — a lifelong hobby or cooking favorite foods. Activities that involve family and friends provide a sense of togetherness and enhance quality of life for all.
While you cannot bring back lost memories, there are many ways you can support and nurture loved ones with Alzheimer’s.
Give them opportunities to feel useful, to be active and to have the companionship of others. Stay connected to them. Above all, treat them with respect and dignity.