By Shanon Raynard
Coping with dementia is a reality for many caregivers and their elderly loved ones. As the cognitive faculties in a person with dementia deteriorate, maintaining effective communication—even in routine and familiar settings—often becomes difficult.
The web offers a lot of excellent strategies to develop communication styles that take into consideration the changing needs and abilities of individuals exhibiting signs of dementia. But without adequate attentiveness, these strategies can be challenging to implement for even the most patient caregiver, resulting in frustration and confusion. This is especially true when a loved one with dementia experiences a medical emergency and stress levels skyrocket.
Thinking ahead as you learn the best methods to communicate with your loved one can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of a potential medical emergency. After all, it is likely that you will know better than emergency responders and hospital staff how to interpret your loved ones verbal and nonverbal cues.
This means you have an important role to play should the worst occur. Your expertise enables you to provide crucial information to medical professionals that will lead them to an accurate diagnosis more quickly. This, in turn, means that appropriate treatment can be administered sooner, likely improving your loved one's prognosis.
Here are 4 strategies to make communication go smoothly--even in a crisis:
- Know their baseline: One of the biggest advantages available to you as a caregiver is the time you spend with your loved one. Developing an intimate knowledge of their baseline behavior, health and demeanor, and the causes of Alzheimer's anger will allow you to better recognize and interpret changes.
- Keep calm and carry on: Similarly, the more time you share with your loved one, the better equipped you will be to soothe and focus them during a precarious situation. Typically, a person with dementia will lose verbal capabilities before their ability to read nonverbal signs and signals. This means that you'll need to be especially aware of the messages you're communicating with your body language, facial expressions and physical contact. Also take note of the tone you're using when speaking. This is another form of communication that a loved one is likely to pick up on, even if they cannot comprehend the words being said. If your loved one is in distress, the best course of action is to present yourself as cool, calm, and collected—even if you feel quite differently on the inside. Showing your own worry can create confusion for your loved one, which may negatively impact their capacity to communicate. This will limit your ability to accurately interpret what they are telling you.
- Set a good example: While emergency medical personnel generally serve more elderly patients than any other demographic, they do not always receive training particular to evaluating and treating those with dementia. Alzheimer's training is increasingly required for police officers and other responders, but emergency care providers are primarily experts at administering treatment. You, however, are an expert in the needs of your loved one. While you certainly do not want to impede their work, it is important to set a confident example for first responders. Illustrate the best way to communicate with your loved one. Encourage eye contact, as well as reasonable tone and volume. Pay attention to and help interpret meaningful gestures or facial expressions. Doing so can help medical professionals reach more informed, accurate conclusions regarding your loved one's condition.
- Learn as much as you can: In addition to researching the medical conditions your loved one has, learn more about the common conditions they may experience. Generally speaking, increased age carries an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Knowing how to recognize these and other cardiovascular events will allow you to have more productive conversations with emergency dispatchers and medical personnel.
Shanon Raynard writes on behalf of ACLS.net. She believes that preparation is an important part of health and wellness.