Through the Severe Stages
You and your loved have now entered the diagnosed stage seven of dementia. You have struggled through the confusion of “What is wrong with my loved one?”, the loss of dreams with the initial diagnosis, watching the gradual decline of their cognitive abilities and now their physical abilities are diminishing. How do you continue to communicate?
Having worked in a nursing home activity dept I learned that communication drastically changes during this final stage. Words no longer have the same meaning or any meaning at all. Touch and gestures become your trusted connection to helping the individual living with Alzheimer’s navigate this final stage. These suggestions may seem difficult for some because they are more intimate ( unless you’ve helped with personal care) than other means of communication…. Holding hands, applying lotion to arms and legs, brushing hair, washing hands and face and polishing fingernails are just a few suggestions.
Just because someone can no longer verbally communicate doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy hearing you talk to them. Make eye contact and be animated…..widen your eyes or wrinkle your nose. Talk to them about their former occupations, the hobbies they once enjoyed or just talk to them about the weather. The gift of gab can be a very important trait for a caregiver. Read to them… the newspaper, a short story or passages from the Bible. Play music for them ….. tap them gently on the arm to the beat of the music or sing to them. Sometimes just the presence of another person close by is comforting…..a touch to their hand or forearm may be all they need or can tolerate. Remember to take your cues from the person living with Alzheimer’s. Pay close attention to their facial expressions or attempts to move their arm or hand away from your touch to ensure they are comfortable with the interaction.
The Power of a Smile
Never underestimate the power of a smile. Most people can’t help but smile back when someone smiles at them. Why would that be any different for someone living with Alzheimer’s? Smiles are inviting and contagious. One smile… happy or sympathetic can set the tone for the whole interaction. Communication is not always about what you say, but about how you make someone feel. Make them feel safe, loved and understood…. there are no better feelings in the world.