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Communicating with Your Loved One

As a caregiver, you will find that you’ll need to adjust how to you interact with your loved one with memory problems. In particular, you may find that as the need for assistance increases, your loved one with memory problems may not always react well to being “told what to do,” as you direct him so he’s safe and cared for. Here are some tips for improving your communications.

  • Always aim to treat him as an equal, helping to make him feel included. Asking questions about the task at hand can help. For example, if you pay bills together you can ask him which one to pay first, the light bill or the phone bill. Ask for his help to stuff the envelopes and put the return address sticker and stamp on the envelope. You can go together to the post office or to put the mail in the mailbox. In other activities, find ways to let him stay involved in a way that’s comfortable for both of you.
  • Talk with him, not “to” him. Ask a question to get a response, then let your loved one answer. When you find that the response is not accurate just nod and don’t argue, and the move on to another interaction.
  • Use a sense of humor. Laugh together when things don’t go quite the way you had planned. But you will need to be careful that your loved one doesn’t think you’re laughing at him.
  • Choose your battles. When your loved one isn’t cooperating, always ask yourself whether he is unsafe. If not, then it may be best to simply overlook this and maintain your own energy. Consider how you would react if you’ve told him to take off a layer of clothing and he gets agitated over that. If that happens, let it pass and don’t worry about it or continue to press him to listen. No, it’s not how he would have dressed in the past, but at the same time it’s not hurting anyone.
  • Treat him like an adult, with respect and dignity. It helps to frequently and expressly validate his feelings of frustration and loss; that lets him know you care. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were him. How would you feel if you were in his place? What if you wake up one morning and the most simple things you could do yesterday, you can’t do today. Things like not knowing where you are in your own home, remembering to go to the bathroom, how to get dressed, how to set the table, how to take the dishes to the sink after meals. Treat him as a person with a disease, not as a “diseased person.”
  • Participate in support groups to learn from others who are on this path, too and strategies that they have found helpful. It can also give you a breather, to take time to refresh yourself.

If this feels difficult to do day-after-day, you’re right. this is not easy….for either of you. When things get really tough, step back, take a deep breath, and move forward, one day at a time. Remember to take care of yourself too, which sometimes can be the hardest task of all for the caregiver. You can help your loved one best by making sure to stay healthy yourself, and maintaining your own energy and strength.