I recently posted this chart on my FB page (DCPutnam Consulting 4.22.17) and to date it has had almost 1,500 hits. That tells me that this information is important to caregivers. So I want to go into more detail as to what this all means.
This is a wonderful guide for family members, professional caregivers and friends when communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. It is especially helpful to those assisting dementia patients with FTD (Frontotemporal Degeneration) as many of their language skills have been dramatically impacted.
Many caregivers will look at this list and say “Right! There is no way I can maintain what is being suggested – who is she kidding?” And that is understandable. But it is doable if you take it in small steps rather than looking at the entire chart.
Let’s look at #1. First we all need to understand that the world of the dementia patient is very real to them and any time you ARGUE you are not going to win. You may not be part of their reality, but they are. So arguing with them only causes frustration, isolation and agitation. Additionally it destroys the trust that you need them to have in you.
So, by example…. for one week commit yourself to not arguing with your loved one. Every hour say “I am not going to argue.” You will slip… and that’s ok and human. Just say it over again and begin anew.
So what can you do to make sure you don’t argue? Here are some suggestions and I can tell you they do work if you practice them consistently and with intent.
- Walk away. It’s that simple. Go to your bedroom, another room in the house or close the bathroom door. Pretend to take the garbage out, sweep the front porch or go check your garden. Pick up a phone and have a fun conversation with your grandchildren. It doesn’t matter what you do… you have removed yourself from a potentially volatile/uncomfortable situation. When you return, talk about something pleasant that your loved one will identify with… or say nothing at all. Do not bring up the subject of the potential argument.
- Distract your loved one. Ignore (meaning don’t respond) the comments or conversation from your loved one and begin talking about something totally different. It might be the breakfast (he) just had or what you will have for lunch or what program is on TV that he still enjoys watching. Start singing a song that you both enjoy singing together. Get the newspaper or the latest pictures of your grandchildren. Only you know what still might peak his interest so don’t hesitate to go there even if it’s the fourth or tenth time you have done in in one day.
- AGREE – Yes that seems strange, but the dementia patient needs to hear you agree with him. Agreeing reinforces his reality because what he sees or hears or believes is so real to him. You can agree that it is Monday – when it really is Friday. You can agree that the neighbor’s dog is always barking – when the neighbor only has cats. You can agree that he should be driving – and that you need to find out what is wrong with the mechanic and why he hasn’t finished repairing the car. You can agree that the doctor is a terrible person – because the doctor won’t let him drive any more. We call these kinds of things “therapeutic fiblets” meaning little white lies. The sooner you become comfortable with fiblets the easier your life will be.
- Lastly Pause… slowly count to 10 and “bite your tongue.” Cough…. pretend to sneeze… pick something up off the floor. All of these things give you time and a reason to pause. Pausing allows you to gather your thoughts, feelings and reactions so you can continue with the task or conversation without arguing.
Watch for the next installment…. and please let me know if this has been helpful.