I recently read an article in Parade about a speech-pathology professor at Ohio State University, Michelle S. Bourgeois, who is finding new ways to communicate with Alzheimer and Dementia patients. The article had a touching story about a woman struggling to deal with her eighty-year-old mother’s inability to recognize her at times and how flash cards helped.
By focusing on what people can do rather than what they’ve lost, Bourgeois and a group of scientists have been helping caregivers change the way they deal with dementia patients. Because Alzheimer’s disease first strikes the part of the brain responsible for memory processing and learning, other abilities like reading and long-term memory are less afflicted. This is why dementia patients ask the same question over and over. The spoken word is heard and understood, but they can’t store the memory of what you’ve just said.
Bourgeois’ work has proven that even in patients who can no longer speak, they can still read because when shown photos with captions, they respond with smiles and pleasant sounds. Her methods suggest making memory books with pictures old and new with captions to help patients remember people. She also suggests flash cards to help caregivers and patients with every day activities.
If your mother is having a hard time remembering you are her son, give her two pictures of you old and new with the captions – “This is my son Paul at age three,” & “This is my son Paul now.” The picture with the captions will help her understand and remember who you are and the nature of your relationship. People never forget you, they just need help remembering.
If your father is asking the same question over and over – “Where are we going?” Answer his question, but also write it down on a notepad and give it to him. When he asks again, tell him the answer is on the notepad. This will help him retain the answer and keep him from asking again.
If a patient refuses to shower, give him/her a card after saying it is time to shower that says, “Showers make me feel fresh and clean.” This will help the patient remember why it is important to shower and the feelings associated with being clean.
While visiting my grandmother over the Thanksgiving holiday, I saw this technique in action and was surprised at how well it worked. Placing a note under her medications stating, “I have taken my pills today,” has conditioned her to take her pills and then put the note on top of the pill box so every time she questions herself, she looks at the pill box, reads the note on top, and knows she took her pills. She also has a booklet of dates written out and stapled together by her chair. Each day she flips the page over to reveal today’s date. This keeps her from asking again and again, “What is today?”
Remember, people with Alzheimer’s/Dementia are still here. They are still the people they have always been, they just need help remembering. Employ these simple techniques to help them reclaim their memory and make these happy not sad times.
To read the full article: http://www.parade.com/health/2010/11/21-unlocking-the-silent-prison.html
Research & Community Education