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World Alzheimer's Month The SeniorScape®

The other day I visited a local merchant who I’ve known for several years to pick up something for dinner with my daughter and her family. He and I usually engage in conversation on one topic and another. On this day he began telling me what he and his siblings are experiencing with his mother of 90 years. It was a familiar story.

We’ll call the merchant David.

Her husband of 63 years died a few years prior. She now lived alone and repeatedly expressed feeling lonely. After a time she began with her asking the same questions repeatedly. Then it was sudden and arbitrary changes to merchants for caring for her property. Her car was in disrepair from repeated side swipes. Then there were a few falls at home.

The family swung into action. They took away the car keys and made an appointment with her primary care physician who did a CAT scan, and in-office assessment before giving them what they suspected, a diagnosis of dementia. Thankfully since one of the siblings was an attorney, this close knit family agreed on a Power of Attorney and Living Will without much discussion.

They also arranged for a physical therapist to visit the mother’s home ½ day/week and a companion another ½ day. The remainder of the siblings took turns visiting their mom on alternate days as well as checking in with her by phone.

Things seemed stable for a time, but…….

On the day I saw the merchant there had apparently been a change. Something the family didn’t anticipate.

The memory loss and confusion were more frequent. His mom was calling him several times a day to ask the same questions while he was trying to run his business. After calling him she called his other siblings asking the same questions. His mounting frustration was apparent. As he conveyed what was happening, he seemed particularly saddened that his mom is beginning to be aware that she doesn’t remember.

Intellectually people may be aware that the situation will change in time. However, at any point in time when arrangements put in place seems like the situation is under control, when it does it takes its emotional toll.

I spent considerable time asking questions and offering some insights based on the information he shared.

He took copious notes. Ultimately, David told me the family was having a meeting on the upcoming Saturday to discuss next steps. as well as retaining my services as a consultant to help them understand what to expect, strategies, and best practices for keeping mom at home as safely and as long as possible.

David family’s story is a familiar one that is happening for millions of families across the United States.

It’s only fitting to share this story as we approach September 21, World Alzheimer’s Awareness Day, the day set aside as part of a month-long initiative known as World Alzheimer’s month to raise awareness, mitigate the stigma, and offer support to the families and 55 million people living with the disease and other dementias.

Here is some of the information I offered:

It’s important to remember that changes in the brain cause the person living with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia to have difficulty remembering recent events, known as short term memory, despite having the ability to remember things from long ago. Though it can get frustrating repeating the same information

over-and-over again, patience, compassion and kindness are key. Getting angry or reminding the person that you already told them the information is fruitless. I suggested the strategy of trying to change the conversation or distract his mother onto another topic if possible.

Changes in the brain also result in the person’s ability to listen and respond to conversation as they had in the past. I suggested presenting information in short, direct sentences containing 1 idea at a time can be more productive for conveying information. As we don’t normally talk in this fashion, this may take some practice.

As Maya Angelou has said, “people may not member what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.” All that to say, that, beyond the words we say, our body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions, sometimes convey more to the person living with dementia than the words themselves. Gentle reassuring touches or hugs, a smiling face, and a calm soothing voice can go a long way in reducing confusion, anger, and can encourage greater cooperation. When speaking with the person, ensure that you are making eye contact, preferably at eye level.

Sometimes we are not even aware of the gestures we are using that can trigger an unwanted response. These can include crossed arms, finger pointing, forceful grips on a person’s arm which conveys anger.

Space can also be an important factor in the communication process. We all need space, though this may vary depending on the person, the situation and the culture. An example of how this can affect the communication interaction would be that standing too close could be intimidating, while standing too far away can send a message of disinterest of lack of caring. Standing too far away while speaking to a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease may also make it more difficult for them to understand what you are trying to convey.

Lastly, while this may take restraint and practice, avoid interruption or correcting. This does not contribute to a positive communication outcome.

If you find. Yourself in a situation that has become increasingly frustrating or challenging, whenever possible, step away for a few moments. Self-care with deep breathing and a calming mantra, even for a few moments. Distance from the situation can help you deescalate emotions so that you can reengage with more calm for you and your loved one.

For more information on understanding and communicating with a person living with dementia, email: You can also visit for courses that can help you learn more and care for a person living with dementia.

Essential Dementia Care 101

There Is a course entitled ‘Essential Dementia Care 102’. It may be worth considering bundling the courses.

Caregivers Guide to Caregiving - the Basics

Communicating Effectively with People With Dementia


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