When communicating, be a ‘guide’ to people with dementia: expert

Imagine you’re caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and you are trying to convince them to bathe. Quite often, caregivers and long-term-care home staff find the person does not want to get into the tub.

This is where caregivers will often make a mistake; they try to bargain and explain to the person why they should have a bath.

“Long-winded explanations or trying to convince with lots of words does not work with persons living with dementia,” writes Bob DeMarco, founder of the Alzheimer’s Reading Room website, a resource dedicated to sharing expert information about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“This effort to explain, cajole or convince is often met with frustration on the part of the Alzheimer’s caregiver; and, complete and total recalcitrance and refusal on the part of the person living with Alzheimer’s.”

DeMarco offers a solution to caregivers: be a guide.

How does a person become a guide? By changing the way they communicate, he says. When a caregiver tries to persuade a person with Alzheimer’s, a common reaction is for the person to resist. As a result, the caregiver will often begin repeating themselves, talking quickly and cajoling.

By this point, a person living with Alzheimer’s has probably forgotten what the conversation is about. And the most common way for the person to answer at this point will be to say “no” or to tell you they already did what they are trying to be persuaded to do.

To prevent this, DeMarco recommends caregivers start conversations with people living with dementia by making clear eye contact before they start talking. If they are trying to persuade a person to bathe, the next step is to smile, hold out their hand and wait for the person to grasp it.

“They then say ‘let’s go’ as they start to move. When the person living with dementia asks ‘where are we going?’, keep your lips sealed tight and start guiding,” DeMarco writes.

“Once you get going a bit, you might say something positive like, ‘it’s time for some ice cream. Wait for the positive response.”

As soon as the caregiver starts this process, it becomes easier, he adds.

“The person who is deeply forgetful starts trusting you and relying on your good judgment. They do this because you stopped bossing them around and you stopped confusing them,” DeMarco says.

“Before you know it, you stop sweating all the small stuff and start doing all the good stuff.”

If you have a story you would like to share with The OMNIway, please contact the newsroom at e-mail deron(at)axiomnews.com.

If you have feedback on this story, please call the newsroom at e-mail deron(at)axiomnews.com.