With diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, communication is one of the first cognitive abilities to be affected. As the diseases progress, communication becomes exceedingly difficult for both you and your loved one to process.
Primary symptoms of dementia such as confusion, memory loss and agitation make it challenging to convey basic needs, i.e. hunger, pain, fatigue or the simple need for something. Along with this, the disease can affect mood, behaviour and cognitive filters. These communication mishaps are tricky to deal with and can often result in frustration, embarrassment, resentment and even incrimination.
As such, here’s how to deal with a few common scenarios:
1. Dealing with dementia accusation
It’s far more common than you think to deal with an accusation by those suffering from dementia. Cognitive misfire means they are left piecing together the mystery of a misplaced handbag (on their part), and a natural assumption is that it’s been stolen. This is where accusation comes in, which can be extremely hurtful and even incriminating in some scenarios.
If you or a live-in caregiver are accused of stealing something, it’s completely futile to try and prove them wrong. Instead, try and avoid confrontation of a false accusation and validate your loved one’s feelings of frustration – try and empathise with their situation. After this, offer up the idea that perhaps an item has been misplaced and you’d be happy to help them find it. Rather than refuting a dementia patient’s claims, acknowledge the situation and offer help to remedy it.
2. Dealing with the dementia insults
The reality of dementia is that a person’s impulse control is diminished as the disease progresses. This means that dementia patients are stripped of their ‘filter’ and are prone to throw around insults, rude comments, obscenities, swear words and sexual remarks. These can be aimed at you, caregivers, family members or even strangers.
When this happens, try and keep your calm through these outbursts. Making a big deal of a rude remark or insult can only add fuel to the fire and encourage further outbursts. Instead, try and acknowledge a loved one’s feelings or reaction and promptly remove them from the situation that is causing their outburst. Avoid reprimanding in this situation as many dementia patients will not fully understand their wrong-doing.
3. Dealing with dementia word relapse
As mentioned, dementia affects memory recall, and even the most basic words are easily forgotten on a day-to-day basis. This can be frustrating for both parties as you try and decipher exactly what a loved one needs in a timely manner.
When a loved one forgets a simple word, try and avoid asking what they mean or saying ‘what is it that you need?’. This can often only serve to frustrate them further. Instead, remain patient and ask them to describe as best they can what they’re looking for. Try not to ask too many questions at once as this can quickly become overwhelming. Ask one question at a time and be as specific as possible.
Relapse and changes in communication may be one of your biggest obstacles you face with your loved one along the progression of dementia. The key is to try and remain patient, understanding and empathetic to a disease they have no control over, wherever possible.