Again this month, The Ohio Masonic Home is adding more tips to our blog to help you learn some ways to support your loved ones dealing with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. We will continue to provide tips for you to use at home, as well as suggestions on when you may want to bring outside help into your home. Finally, we will offer suggestions on when it may be time to move your loved one to an appropriate care facility. Please refer back to our first post on Recognizing Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.
(Information that is shown in bold and italics is specific information that The Ohio Masonic Home professionals wanted to make sure is emphasized. These are practices they follow every day.)
In this article we will cover some basics on how to communicate with those dealing with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. We will also look at tips to make eating and daily activities easier for you both. Developing procedures will make these everyday tasks easier on everybody.
Communicating with a person who has Alzheimer’s disease can be a challenge. It takes a great deal of practice to achieve mutual understanding, but these suggestions can help:
- Choose simple words and short sentences and use a gentle, calm tone of voice.
- Do not talk to the person with Alzheimer’s like a baby or speak about them as if they weren’t there.
- Minimize distractions and background noise—such as the television or radio—to help the person focus on and process what you are saying.
- Make sure you have their attention before speaking by addressing them by name and making eye contact.
- Allow enough time for them to respond, and be careful not to interrupt.
- If they struggle to find a word or communicate a thought, gently try to provide the word(s) they are looking for.
- Frame questions and instructions in a positive way.
- Be open to the person’s concerns, even if he or she is hard to understand.
- If you can’t understand what they are trying to say, look for clues in their emotions and body language and take their surrounding environment into account.
Some people with Alzheimer’s disease want to eat all the time, while others have to be encouraged. Eating and drinking involve the senses as well as coordinated fine motor functions, all of which can diminish due Alzheimer’s disease. Making some mealtime adjustments can help your loved one get the nutrition they need.
- View mealtimes as opportunities for social interaction. Try to be patient and avoid rushing. Build in extra time to mealtime.
- Aim for a quiet, calm atmosphere by limiting background noise and other distractions.
- Maintain consistent mealtime routines, but adapt to the person’s changing needs.
- Allow the person to choose what they would like to eat, but limit the number of options to choose from. Try to offer appealing foods that vary in taste, texture and color.
- Serve small portions or several small meals throughout the day.
- Make healthy snacks, finger foods, and shakes available. In the earlier stages of dementia, be aware of the possibility of overeating.
- Choose dishes and eating utensils that promote independence. If the person has trouble using utensils, use a bowl instead of a plate, or offer utensils with thicker, easier to grasp handles. Difficulty using utensils can also be addressed by serving finger foods like small sandwiches, chicken fingers, and fruit pieces. Use straws or cups with lids to make drinking easier and minimize messes.
- Encourage them to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to avoid dehydration.
- Maintain routine dental check-ups and daily oral health to keep the mouth healthy.
As the disease progresses, be aware of the increased risk of choking and aspiration due to difficulty chewing and swallowing.
Find activities that match your loved one’s interests and abilities. Building on current skills generally works better than trying to teach something new.
- Simple, short activities without too many different steps or requirements are best.
- Help the person get started, and break the activity down into small steps.
- Offer praise for each step they complete, and watch for signs of agitation or frustration. If they become irritated, gently help or redirect their attention to something else.
- Incorporate favorite activities into your daily routine and try to do them at a similar time each day.
- To help maintain functional skills, enhance feelings of personal control and make good use of time. Try to include them in an entire activity process. For instance, at mealtimes, encourage the person to play a role in helping prepare the food, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards.
- Take advantage of adult day services, which provide various activities and social opportunities for seniors as well as respite time for their caregivers. Transportation and a meal are typically provided.