Does anyone have ideas for communicating with someone who has challenges?

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Hi, I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts or suggestions regarding communicating with my mother.

She's 78 and is in a group home. I'm not her guardian due to some complications (she has signs of mental illness where she cuts off contact with people entirely for long spells, sometimes permanently and has a lot of erratic behaviors that seem to fit being bipolar in some ways).

But she is in a home now and getting regular food and medications on time, so that's the good part.

The bad part is she has some challenges.

1. She is not a native English speaker. Her first language is German, and she still speaks with a thick accent despite being in the U.S. more than 50 years.

2. She's hard of hearing. She's never been willing to get a hearing aid or anything, but insists it's just wax buildup. (Past doctors have not found evidence of that, but we're working on getting a checkup on this again to see what may help.) The problem is she can't hear very well, and picks up maybe one-fourth of what's said. Sometimes things have to be repeated to her in a half-dozen ways and a half-dozen times before she understands, and then half the time she misinterprets it.

I've tried speaking to her in German, though mine is a bit rusty, but it doesn't help very much. Others have tried, too (her doctor speaks fairly good German) and she understands him better, but still misinterprets a lot.

So, German and English are not quite working.

I've tried writing things down for her, too, but her eyesight isn't the greatest (she often will forget her glasses or just refuse to wear them). I try for clear sentences, etc., and she either confuses things or remembers it or interprets it badly.

I'm at a loss what to do. It's extremely frustrating to speak with her since normal communication options don't work. Also, people end up speaking louder and louder to her to try and get her to understand, and all she gets out of it is that people are yelling at her.

Has anyone had luck with overcoming some similar communication challenges? Does anyone have any ideas or suggestions? I feel like I can communicate more effectively with a housecat at this point.

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Veronica's suggestion of coloring books falls right into the category of art therapy. PBS ran a special on it sometime ago.

There's been a flood of adult coloring books recently after the Zentangle concept was developed and marketed heavily. But there are other very high quality coloring books that have been available for years.

You've got some good ideas; I hope they work out for both of you. Please let us know; it helps us to know what works!
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Heidi73, I understand fully what you are going through... I had a similar issue with my Mom who was in her 90's regarding communications.

My Mom was also very hard of hearing, and I did like you did, tried different words. Eventually she would catch one word and would talk about that subject hoping it would make sense for what we said. I would say "pillow", and Mom would hear "jello". And how I hated to yell at her while shopping, people would think I was abusing her :(

Mom kept looking for that magic hearing aid that would bring back her hearing... buying hearing aid after hearing aid... she also had ear wax issues but as soon as the nurse put one drop of hot water in her ear, the cleaning was over. I could understand Mom's frustration as she use to enjoy music and watching her football teams.

If you could somehow wrangle your Mom into at least trying a hearing aid, she might be pleasantly surprised. I know some people refuse hearing aids due to vanity. Try telling Mom, I know the cat might understand better, there are famous people who wear hearing aids and no one thinks twice about that.

My Mom also had macular degeneration so it depended on how she was seeing that day. I found printing in regular 14 font worked better than writing in super large, and Mom would use a small LED flashlight to read the words. It was exhausting for her but she would read some things.

Good luck.
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There are adult coloring books available now that she might enjoy.
They have decent pictures not like kids books.
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Thank you everyone.
Churchmouse you have a good point about it bothering me more than it bothers my mother. Chalk it up to it being tiresome trying to communicate. Some days it's frustrating when she gets into a mindset of being a victim and then when I try and explain she's in a home so she gets the care she needs, she never gets it. I just need to respond differently or change the subject. Some days I'm good at it, and others not so much.
Sunnygirl1, you have a good idea about involving other senses. Maybe a pretty picture book or magazine with flowers, or lotion, or a soft scarf, or something that needs less spoken or written words may be a way to go about it.
Gardenartist, you have some great ideas, too. I do know of a German store on Gratiot that sells a variety of items. I go and get some goodies for my mom there -- if I get chocolates she used to get she enjoys those, or I buy some Nivea creme, or some sausage and bread for her there. They also do sell some magazines with crossword puzzles. We used to get some kind of women's magazine with recipes and gossip and little tips -- kind of like the Women's Weekly or Women First ones in U.S. grocery stores -- and I could read the German in those pretty well. Maybe I'll see if I can find one of those and practice reading to her.
And yes, she has a magnifying glass for reading, as well as several pairs of glasses. We usually end up buying her a new one now and then because she tends to lose things.
She does like jigsaw puzzles, too, so maybe I'll find a colorful one with larger pieces that isn't too complex. Doing things that leave talking out of the picture sometimes helps. It distracts her from some bitter moods, too.
Thank you all for the ideas!
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Churchmouse's suggestions reminded me that I also used to buy German/English books - German on one side of the page and the corresponding English on the other.

If your mother enjoys reading, and you get a large screen reader, that's something she can do on her own.

I used to buy those at Borders, which unfortunately no longer exists. I don't know if Barnes & Noble has dual translation books, but Wayne State might. Its bookstore used to be an adventure in sensory challenge - so many books, so little time! (I used to leave there ladened with books that I didn't need but couldn't resist).
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Heidi, you're literally a hop, skip and a jump from me. Hopefully these suggestions will be of some help, especially since I know the community.

1. Decades ago I found some German retailers in the Macomb County area; I used to go to a German store and buy German magazines and had the impression that there was a decent sized German contingent there.

It's been years, but I would do some research to try to locate (a) German organizations (b) German stores, and ask if either knows of someone who could do translations. I would think there would be more older Germans in organizations, such as a German-American club. Also, there might be some German specific churches.

I did a quick search and found a German American Cultural Club, and a German American Chamber of Commerce. Just P'M'ed the search link to you.

Even if German/English communication is difficult, at this point it's still a workable possibility, with some assistance. The only other method is in writing.

2. Less promising, but a possibility: I took language courses several decades ago at both Wayne State and OCC. I doubt if the German program would have been cancelled at WSU, but I don't know about OCC. At any rate, I'd contact the language departments of both, or contact the instructors, and ask if there are any instructors who might want to assist in communication. You'd probably have to pay them, but it might be worth it.

3. Try to find some ESL courses that cater to Germans; the instructor might be willing to add some translation tasks to his/her activities.

4. If you contact the universities, ask if there are any native German speakers who provide tutoring; they might have more flexible schedules than professors and might be interested in extra money. I tutored French for awhile when I took my math courses at OCC.

5. Try simplifying your communication from complete to minimal sentences. And try writing them out in both English and German, perhaps on a white board.

I.e., as an example, instead of "are you hungry", just write "hungry??". And write in large letters. The KISS philosophy prevails here.

I used this when my father was intubated and unable to speak. I also used pictures to the extent possible, and simple words, so that the medical staff could communicate with him in the same manner. Words included ones such as "thirsty", "cold", "call daughter", "bathroom STAT". Just the basics.

If she responds well, you can expand the communication list.

6. Use word pictures to the extent you can, either as a supplement or alternative to just words. If you can, tie a pointer to the white board (especially if she has limited range of motion in her arms and hands and writing might be difficult). Also provide a white board or tablet for her to write on. If you can find a translator through suggestions 1 and 2 above, it would help determine what she's trying to communicate.

7. Another alternative is to use some type of recording device (I don't know if the SmartPhones have these) so that she can record what she wants to say, you can play it for a translator and get an interpretation.

Hope these help.

And I think Sunny's suggestions of pampering and soothing, preferably as the first step in a visit, could relax her and pave the way for a more effective visit.
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Don't take this question the wrong way (it's genuine enquiry, I'm not having a dig at you) - does the communication problem bother your mother as much as it does you? Does she fret that she can't hear what people are saying, does she feel she's missing out?

It's just that one factor to bear in mind is that, as well as physical hearing loss, there might also be an element of her not wanting to make the effort any more. So, for example, not so much she can't remember or misunderstood what the doctor told her as that she can't bring herself to feel that it matters very much what he said - nice people are sorting out her meds for her, why bother to waste energy worrying about it herself. That sort of thing. And if you think that might be part of it, then company is nice but maybe cut back on the talking content?

I sympathise with the difficulty of trying to have a proper conversation with someone who has become harder of hearing with age - it gets physically exhausting, trying to increase the volume of your voice without sounding harsh or strident, and turns a pleasant social exchange into a sad chore. So for you to continue to enjoy visiting, Sunnygirl's alternative activities suggestions seem the way to go - tailored to your mother's preferences, of course.

For reading, by the way, you can get magnifying screens that serious needleworkers use - they're held at an adjustable height on a floor stand so that they leave your hands free. No reason why they shouldn't be equally good for jigsaw puzzles and the Süddeutschezeitung!
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I know that it's frustrating trying to communicate with someone who is hard of hearing. I have seen a couple of people like that in Assisted Living before. The yelling kind of takes the fun out of things.

I have challenges with my cousin, who hears, but due to her dementia, she is not able to process much of what I say or to communicate back to me. I try to focus on things like taking and showing her photos of family members and pictures of cute animals. I also rub pleasantly scented lotion on her arms and hands and spray her with her favorite body spray. I can't leave the lotions and spray with her, but it's nice for the visit that day. Make sure she nor her roommate is allergic. I also take her her favorite treats and beverages and sit while she enjoys them. Sometimes, not many words are exchanged. We may just relaxe and I will hug her and touch her arm with affection. I'm not sure if your mom is a touchy feely kind of person, but you might give it a try. I hope something works.
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