Imagine that you wake up one morning and find that people around you are adding some foreign words to their conversations with you. They insist that they have told you several times when lunch is scheduled. They complain that you are not listening or are being purposefully dense, refusing to follow directions. They act like they can't understand you when you implore them to help you find the critical documents you need immediately. You can see the frustration on their faces. Why can't they understand you?
This may be the way people with Alzheimer's dementia perceive their conversations with friends and loved ones. In the book, Speaking Our Minds by Lisa Snyder, the author followed several individuals with AD in the years since their diagnosis. One patient speaks of the mental energy expended as she tries to grasp the meaning of whole phrases in conversations. She has problems locating familiar objects due to the loss of recent memory for where she placed them. She mentions how hard it is to accept these mistakes as she was always so dependable in her work life.
Another patient says he is grieving for the loss of the relationship he once had with his wife as she now has to take on his home responsibilities as well as her own.
With early stage AD, he Alzheimer's Association suggests: allow the newly diagnosed patient to grieve, as you would with any terminal illness; encourage the patient to share the way the disease is affecting him most; acknowledge that you too are sad to hear of the diagnosis; help him plan for his future, completing a living will, and giving power of attorney to a trusted person; encourage him to find ways to simplify his life while maintaining as much independence as possible for as long as possible; recognize that this is a disease that may progress slowly over 5 to 15 years and the image he has of a late stage patient may never occur to him.
Be patient and supportive, expect that there will be many fluctuations in abilities from month to month, seize the opportunities for meaningful conversation, give the person time to speak while avoiding criticizing or correcting. Repeat what was said if clarification is needed. Don't argue to insist on explaining. Wait until another day.
There is hope and there is help out there. Research continues and people are needed for clinical trials.
Meet others in the Statesboro area dealing with caregiving responsibilities...come to the support group meetings held at Statesboro First United Methodist Church the 2nd Monday of each month at 1:30 in room 200. You don't need a reservation. Contact the Alzheimer's Association for additional assistance.
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