How To Comfort Someone With Alzheimer’s

February 20, 2010 at 1:30 am Leave a comment

A caregiver has to have nerves of rubber–not nerves of steel. In the course of just a few hours, your loved one with Alzheimer’s can go from being pouty and grumpy to paranoid and belligerent. It would be easier to ping-pong with an octopus than to try to manage the emotional needs of someone with dementia. And yet you have to try. You know they’re lost, confused, agitated, and scared. So how do you comfort someone with Alzheimer’s?

You have to have a full bag of goodies. There’s no one way–but there are tactics that can help.

Ways to Comfort Someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia:

  • First, don’t sneak up on them. Many elders have vision issues–tunnel vision, periphery issues, cataracts and starbursts. They might startle, yell, or try to hit–wouldn’t you if you if someone snuck up on you and you didn’t remember who they were?
  • If they’re sitting or in a wheelchair, get on their level. No one likes to be talked down to–but don’t assume they can’t hear. Take the time to find out so you’re not yelling–or if you need to speak clearer. Nothing’s more frustrating than to not figure out what’s going on.
  • If your loved one is agitated, act like you’re in charge. My mother responded to my husband’s strong male voice–it made her feel safe–as if someone were going to take care of things. I found that providing a sense of security was something she longed for.
  • Be empathetic. If they start talking about their dad who passed away when they were a child, don’t hammer the point that he’s dead now. Instead of focusing on the death part, ask what they used to do together. You can add that you used to fish, too, but don’t expect too much connection–while they may for a brief time remember their past, they might not be able to make the visual/imaginative leap to yours.
  • Connect with feelings. Don’t step on the merry-go-round of “where am I/I’ve got to go to my house/I’m supposed to go work–if you do, you’ll never get off. Go to the feeling underneath: Where am I? You’re safe here–let’s get some cookies and milk. I’ve got to go to my house–tell me about your garden. Or I’m supposed to go work–so you’re a school teacher, that’s something to be proud of. Pull out a photo album or go look at the pictures hanging in the hall.
  • Try swaddling. New research has found that if a person is feeling anxious (such as those suffering with OCD or an eating disorder), swaddling–or holding them firm for a few minutes–can relief the acute attack. We wrap our newborns tight in a blanket to simulate the uterus, so this makes sense.
  • Give them a comfort object–a doll, a stuffed animal, or a blanket. Women especially like to hold something–years after holding babies that biological need returns. What an easy and warm way to provide comfort.
  • Distract and substitute. If dad’s about to hurl a vase across the livingroom, ask him to hold the dustpan so you can sweep. Ignore the volatile situation and get them involved in a ordnary activity and help them feel useful.
  • Let go of a bad day. We all have them. Sometimes everything you try falls flatter than a roof shingle. Take a hot shower, cry, ask someone for a hug…and know that tomorrow is a new day.

You know your spouse or your elder-parent better than anyone. What worked yesterday might turn up nada today–but just about everyone I know has one of those magical/surprising moments when you know that you know that the two of you connected. 

Share your victories (and defeats) with your caregiving group or online forum–and maybe someone will have a good tip for you.

Be willing to try the unorthodox–if it’s not illegal then go for it. All’s fair in love and Alzheimer’s.

Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving, sundown syndrome. Tags: , , , , .

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Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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