By Sarah Jane
Lately I have been trying to think about the things that helped me when Mum began to be noticeably affected by dementia more than a decade ago.
So I dug out my large and ancient dementia folder. One of the first things I found was a double-sided sheet entitled "Compassionate Communication with a Person with Dementia".
I was surprised to find multiple copies in my folder; I obviously liked it a lot and meant to give it to others.
I was even more surprised to find a laminated version as well.
Then I remembered: that was the copy I used to keep by the phone. At that stage Mum was still living independently. I would often receive three or four phone calls from her each day. Sometimes more.
I had to learn to be patient, positive and reassuring when she was angry, confused and despairing. With the addition of the memory loss that she either would not or could not acknowledge, things got pretty tricky at times.
It was difficult to remember these new pointers in the early stages of my mother's illness. I still wanted to speak with my mother like she was the same bright, articulate woman I had always known.
However, Dementia often requires learning a whole new way of communicating with someone you have known for all or most of your life. The advice in this Compassionate Communication tipsheet became my mantra.
- "Don't remind them they forgot."
- "Don't question recent memory."
- "Don't take it personally."
My version of the tipsheet had no credit on it, but today I searched under the title and up it popped up.
I know that many dementia caregivers struggle with their loved one's repeated phone calls, emotional distress, confusion and frustration, which can quickly become exhausting and heartbreaking. I wanted to share this tool that helped me communicate with my mother all those years ago and still guides my interactions with her. I hope it helps others in this difficult situation.
I offer my belated and grateful thanks to the author, Liz Ayres, described on the tipsheet as an Alzheimer's Association volunteer and former caregiver.