I just read an insightful article in the Washington Post. The article, by Susan Berger, asks the question: “What’s the best way to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s?” It stems from an encounter between Berger and an acquaintance of hers who had just been diagnosed with the disease.

The article explores what to do and say to help the person coping with Alzheimer’s disease. We want to do the “right thing,” but deciding what the right thing is may be a challenge. Ms. Berger turns to families of Alzheimer’s patients, as well as experts in the field, for answers.

For example, when a friend with Alzheimer’s seems not to recognize you, a natural tendency is to withdraw from the situation. Keep in mind, however, that those with Alzheimer’s often struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Instead of withdrawing, remind your friend of your name, and how you know each other. Make sure that the reminder doesn’t come across as a test. The article suggests that you consider a reminder such as: “Our children went to school together… it’s wonderful to see you,” but not “Remember? Our kids went to school together.”

Other suggestions include:

  • Take your cues from the patient: if he or she seems confused, help by giving an explanation
  • In groups, fill in conversations with details to help the patient understand
  • Reintroduce yourself when you enter the room
  • Ask the patient for help with a manageable task
  • Don’t quiz: instead of asking what the patient had for breakfast, say “those eggs you had for breakfast looked good.”
  • Don’t act upset by the patient’s limitations, or act as if he or she isn’t in the room
  • Don’t try to force a memory

This last point was illustrated by a common problem with Alzheimer’s patients: forgetting the death of a loved one. Although a natural tendency is to be honest, reminding the patient of the bad news forces him/her to relive the grief; it might be better to say “He’s not here today but we’ll see him soon,” and redirect the conversation.

Berger reports that, according to experts, “the person with Alzheimer’s has a different reality,” and the best way to help is to “get in their world” and adjust our conversations accordingly.

A copy of What’s the best way to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s can be found here –  What’s the best way to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s?

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