Enjoying Visits With Your Elderly Family Member


By Erin Treder

It's not easy to see someone close to you lose her ability to communicate as she once did. As the family member of a person who is confused, you may find communicating with your loved one increasingly difficult. Alzheimer's disease and related dementia can affect a person's ability to understand information and make his needs known. As a result, there may be times when a family member with Alzheimer's is confused, irritable, stubborn, argumentative, or even verbally abusive.

As we enter the holiday season, connecting with our friends and family becomes even more important, according to Rita Altman, R.N., who recently wrote an article for The Huffington Post about tips on visiting relatives with memory loss.

The holidays often spark memories of years past for the elderly. Altman suggests "traveling back in time together" and recalling memories of long ago, which can be easier for those suffering from memory loss, and can provide joy. Make sure to listen intently and ask questions, even if you've heard a story once or many times. Provide your full attention to show respect for your loved one.

There are other ways to make your visits with an elderly relative as pleasant and stress-free as possible for both of you, no matter the time of year.

Identify yourself. Remind the person who you are. Don't ask her to identify you, as this can cause frustration. For example, say, "Mom, it's your daughter Mary. How are you today?"

Approach with care. Someone with Alzheimer's disease may be very sensitive to nonverbal cues and his need for personal space. If your family member does not recognize you, he may not want you to touch him or get too close. Before touching this loved one, let him know what you plan to do. For example, say, "Dad, I'm going to help you put on your sweater." Smile reassuringly and use gentle touches.

Be aware of your paraverbal communication. Paraverbal communication is the tone, volume, and rate of your speech. It can greatly affect the meaning of a statement, depending on how it is used. An example is the question, "What's wrong?" You could ask this in a calm, supportive way, or in an angry, impatient way.

Speak slowly and allow silence. Allow time for your loved one to answer one question before you ask the next. It may take up to 30 seconds for your family member with dementia to process the question you have asked.

Keep your messages short and simple. Be specific in your statements and requests, and try to physically demonstrate what you are saying at the same time. Don't quiz your family member on what he remembers. For example, instead of saying, "Who did I bring with me today, Dad?" say, "Dad, look who came with me to visit today. It's your sister, Jane."

Use other forms of communication. In addition to using spoken words, supplement your interaction with other communication forms. Listen to music, apply hand lotion, or bring in fresh flowers for your loved one to smell.

Don't argue with your family member. Don't try to argue with your loved one if she's confused about the facts of a situation. Try to understand how she's feeling. Often, fear and confusion are at the root of her behavior. Offer reassurance instead of trying to correct misconceptions.

In general, try to ignore verbal outbursts or insults. Remember that it's usually the disease talking, not the person. By using a reassuring manner, you can calm your family member,  allowing you both to enjoy your time together.

Erin Treder writes articles for CPI, an international training organization that is committed to best practices and safe behavior management methods that focus on prevention. CPI specializes in Alzheimer's care training.


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