Mom has been having a harder and harder time communicating with us. She stumbles over words, knows what she wants to say and just can't think of the words she needs.
We may be at the dinner table and she wants ketchup for her hamburger, but can't remember the word ketchup. Or she read a story in the newspaper and wants to tell us about it but can't remember what the story said. However, through reading more about the TimeSlips program and alternative, more creative ways to communicate with dementia patients, Dad and I started doing something different.
When Mom is trying to tell us something and she can't find the words she needs, we ask her to either describe it or tell us a story. For the ketchup example, we usually know when she is asking for an item so we ask her describe what the item looks like or what it does. If she is trying to remember the story she read in the newspaper, we ask her to tell us a story. Interestingly in those situations, she tells us a story of something that she remembers from when she was younger but is similar in topic or some way to the current event she is trying to talk about. If we have read the paper or at least have seen the headlines, we can usually guess what she is trying to tell us by connecting her older story to something current that has similarities.
So, if you are talking to someone with dementia and they are having a hard time communicating with you, ask them to describe what they are thinking of, or tell you a story instead. It works wonders by letting you both communicate better, but it also relieves some of the embarrassment of the person with dementia. This way you focus not on what they can't remember and how awkward they sound, and more on what wisdom they wish to share with you.
Rev. Katie, As someone who has been on this long walk of dementia with my mother for a long time, I'm enjoying following your blog. I wish we had started our walk with the wisdom and patience you have shown. Thank you for sharing.ReplyDelete
I have a question. Now,when we try to help Mom communicate what she wants, she gets frustrated and stops trying. It's frustrating for all of us. I'm wondering whether it's because we were so impatient with her at first, before we had any understanding of this disease or because she has moved on to another level of the disease where even the ability to describe is gone. Do you have any suggestions on how we might help her to recover her courage to try?
I'm enjoying your blog and especially love the idea of TimeSlips.
When am I am struggling to find a word, I welcome assistance from others as I hate hitting that blank wall in my mind. Once I have regained the lost word, my frustration ends and I feel myself calming down.ReplyDelete
When someone helps me find my missing word, it also tells me they were actually listening to me even though I know doing so can be uncomfortable on days when speech is a struggle for me.
Thank you for your kind comments! I am sorry to hear you are having a hard time communicating with your Mom. I do not know communication styles for more advanced dementia on a personal level very well but I can try to give a few suggestions. I agree it may be possible she is too far along not to get frustrated. If not though, you could also try asking her to describe things instead. Another thing I do with my Mom when she gets frustrated is validate her feelings and empathize with her. For instance "I can tell you are really frustrated right now. I want to hear what you have to say. Let's try again." My Mom has Parkinson's so she can not really write or draw anymore, but if your mother can draw or write, you could ask her to draw what she is thinking of, or write it. Some people can write a word but not say it out loud. These are just a few suggestions but I am really not an expert. I just find creativity and compassion are the two things I try when things are hard. Also, if you have not already, contact your chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. They have support for caregivers and will help you brainstorm solutions to whatever your situation is. They are very helpful.
Good Luck and hang in there!
I think your point that when other people help you find words, it actually shows they are listening is really important! So many people shy away from helping someone with dementia for fear of offending them when really helping shows you listen and care. Thank you for sharing!