Keeping peace in a home or relationship with a person living with dementia can be very challenging. This is especially true when the disease has progressed but the caregiver hasn’t fully realized that changes have occurred in how the loved one perceives their world. We can’t always understand our loved one’s perception of their world, but when we can try to see the environment through their eyes we can offer them the comfort of feeling seen, and heard, and valued.
Entering into your loved one’s reality can decrease arguments, frustration and sometimes undesirable behaviors. For example, if your loved one tells you there is someone in the room that you cannot see, telling them there is no one in the room will not bring them into your reality. To them, the person in the room is seen through their mind’s eye and is just as real as you are. If you tell them there is no one there, you make them question themselves which can cause anxiety, frustration and maybe even fear or anger. We do not have to lie to our loved one, but we can ask questions that will make them feel loved and validated and often will help the delusion to diminish. Ask questions like, “How big is the person?”, “What are they wearing?”, “Are they happy or sad?”, “What are they doing?” Any questions like these will engage them, with the exception of ‘why.’ Asking ‘why’ causes confusion and frustration and should be avoided.
Sometimes a loved one will ask about a relative who has already died. Our initial reaction is to remind them that this person is dead: “Mom, you know that Daddy died five years ago.” If ‘Mom’ is asking about her husband, it is because she does not remember. When you remind her, it will feel as if she has been notified of their death for the first time and this will cause her shock, grief, and pain. Again, we don’t have to lie to her, but there are soft answers that will redirect her in a loving way. “Dad isn’t here right now but he is doing fine,” “Dad is okay, and you will see him soon.” Answers such as these will help your loved one feel heard, seen, valued, and cared for.
Validating and redirecting your loved will generally satisfy them – at least for a few minutes, and then they will forget the conversation and it will start all over again. I visit a friend every Saturday who is living with Alzheimer’s. She will tell me, “My parents had three boys, three girls, and then Mike,” ten to twelve times an hour. I show her respect and care by acting like it is the first time I’ve heard that – every time. This is much harder when you live with the person and may hear the same comment or question a hundred times a day. This is when you need to love and respect yourself as you do your loved one living with Alzheimer’s.
Watching a loved one’s memory fade can be difficult on many levels. Using these helpful prompts will help keep you, as the caregiver, and your loved one calm and comfortable. Remember to put yourself in their shoes and your reactions will be governed accordingly.
If you have questions about how hospice can help those with dementia, contact us here.