Many people simply don’t know how to interact with or entertain people who have Alzheimer’s. The following 25 tips will help you improve the quality of your visits.
1. Make Eye Contact: Always approach them face-to-face and make eye contact. It is vital that they actually see you.
2. Be at Their Level: Move your head to be at the same level as their head. Kneel or sit down the reach their level. Do not stand or hover over them. It may be intimidating or scary.
4. Speak Slowly: Speak at one half your normal speed. Take a breath between each sentence. Give them a chance to catch up to your words.
5. Speak in Short Sentences: Speak in short, direct sentences with only one idea to each sentence. Usually they can only focus on one idea at a time.
6. Only Ask One Question at a Time: Let them answer it before you ask another question. You can ask who, what, where and when, but not why. Why is too complicated. They may fail and get frustrated.
7. Don’t say “remember”: Many times they will not be able to remember, and you are just pointing out their shortcomings. That may be perceived as insulting and can cause anger and/or embarrassment.
8. Turn Negatives Into Positives: For example say, “Let’s go here” instead of “Don’t go there.”
9. Don’t Talk Down to Them: Don’t talk to them as though they were a child. Respect the fact that they are an adult, and treat them as such.
10. Validate Their Feelings: Don’t just try to convince them they shouldn’t be feeling a certain way. Say something like, “I see that you are angry (sad, upset, etc.) It let’s them know they are not alone.
11. Talk About the Old Times More Than Recent Information: They are more likely to remember events from the distant past.
12. Do Something With the Person: Bring pictures, CDs of music the person used to enjoy, or other “props” (such as items related to one of the person’s special interests), to bring up pleasant memories.
13. What to Do When They Keep Repeating the Same Question: Answer the question patiently as though it’s the first time they asked it, because for them it is. They can’t remember they already asked the question.
14. What to Do When They Keep Repeating the Same Story: Respond as though it’s the first time they told you the story. Again, they can’t remember they just told you the story.
15. Keep Visiting Even Though They May Not Remember Who You Are: Even though they may not recognize you they may really enjoy visiting with you, and that’s what matters.
16. Use Therapeutic Touch With the Person: People with Alzheimer’s may yearn to be touched. You should always get verbal or non-verbal permission before touching a person with dementia. There are different types of touch: light, moving touch is stimulating; deep, slow touch is calming.
17. Ask Only One Question at a Time: The person can typically only register one thing at a time.
18. If a Person Starts Getting Agitated, Stop What You’re Doing and Change the Activity or Subject:You can stop an activity and start a new one. You can also quickly change the subject of discussion.
19. Do Not Correct the Person: This may embarrass them or lead to an argument.
20. Do Not Argue With the Person: Don’t even think about arguing with the person. You can’t win.
21. Use Their Name Frequently When Talking With Them: Most people respond positively to hearing their name and people with Alzheimer’s are usually no different.
22. Don’t Visit if You Find They Already Have A Visitor: If a person already has one visitor adding another one may be too much stimulation for them.
23. Don’t Just Assume the Person Doesn’t Remember Something: People with Alzheimer’s may have moments of perfect lucidity during which they will remember things they wouldn’t otherwise remember.
24. Don’t Tell The a Loved One Has Passed Away if They Ask About the Person: This may just upset the person. It’s best to tell a white lie and say something such as the person is away and will return soon.
25. Don’t Even Bring up Topics That May Upset Them: Again, this may lead to a nasty argument.
For more information and inspiration visit MariaShriver.com.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. These tips include some from Carole Larkin, published on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, and an interview with Tom and Karen Brenner, authors of "You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello."