Alzheimer’s disease can be a crippling experience for both the afflicted as well as the one who is looking after them. It is a gradual degeneration of a person’s cognitive abilities, and can be painful for their loved ones to watch them slide. Since September is recognised as Alzheimer’s month globally, Dr Rajesh Benny, Consultant Neurology, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, raises awareness about the progressive form of dementia, and how a person can effectively communicate with someone who is suffering from it.
“Many a time, Alzheimer’s tangles up one’s language. A person may forget or no longer associate with the English language, if it was a second language to them; they may understand or use only the first language, for instance, if it is Hindi,” says Dr Benny.
The doctor says that some other problems faced by a person with Alzheimer’s may include:
− Repetition of familiar words
− Describing objects rather than naming them
− Losing the train of thought while conversing with someone
− Depending on hand motions and gestures more than words
− Trouble in finding the right words
− Sensitivity to touch and to the tone and volume of voices
− Failure in remembering the process of usual activities like wearing one’s clothes, cooking, brushing teeth, etc.
He goes on to suggest some tips on how a caregiver can communicate with their loved one:
* Be patient: It is important to understand that Alzheimer’s causes changes in communication skills. Thus, be patient and take time to listen and allow the person with the condition to talk without interruption.
* Use visual signs: Sometimes, gestures or other visual cues endorse better understanding than words alone. For example, rather than asking if the person needs to use the toilet, take them to the toilet and point at it.
* Not all communication needs to be verbal: Non-verbal communication such as emails, phone calls, and body language, are all good gestures to show someone you care without requiring an instant communication response.
* Avoid arguing, criticizing or correcting: Over time, a person with Alzheimer’s will live in their own reality. Pay attention and try to understand their main points, but don’t engage in an argument or correct a mistake in speech. Always be tone-alert, that is how loud you speak or fast you communicate as well as your own body language.
* Maintain eye contact: Maintaining eye contact is a simple and easy way to show your loved one that you care about them and are paying attention to what they are saying.
* Speak slowly and clearly: Adopt or go through tasks with a one-thing-at-a-time approach; be careful so as not to overpower or confuse your loved one.
* Ask open-ended questions: Asking a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question will help them to make decisions easier and faster, eliminating the confusion.
* Make them comfortable: If a person with Alzheimer’s is facing difficulty in communicating, let them know that it’s okay, and provide gentle encouragement. Remain patient through irate outbursts. Offer a warm and loving gesture by gently holding the person’s hand.
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