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How to Approach a Person with Alzheimer's

Brenda Avadian, MA Written by Brenda Avadian, MA
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Dementia Caregiving | Author | The Caregiver's Voice

When visiting a loved one with middle-stage Alzheimer's, family members are initially shocked when they are treated with indifference or worse, ignored. This is because as Alzheimer’s disease progresses it steals away a person’s memory, sense of location, and time. Neuron by neuron, Alzheimer’s takes away a person’s life history one sentimental memory at a time.

Approaching Someone With Alzheimer's

To avoid this shock…

When approaching, make sure you learn what is on the person's mind.

You can't just bound into the room, greet him/her jovially and expect a "Sweetie-am-I-glad-to see-you" gleam in his/her eye!

You're more likely to get the "Who-the-heck-are-you?" glare if s/he looks at you at all.

What else can you do to avoid being ignored?

  • Approach slowly.
    Wait for the person to be aware of your presence.
  • Make sure your eyes meet.
    You want the person to see you.
  • Smile.
    The person will feel that you are a friend. Barbara Gaughen-Muller, Caregiver of the Month, explains, "Nothing lifts the heart as easily as a smile. And it's free!"
  • Use the person's name then introduce yourself and state your relationship (wife, husband, son, daughter, sister, brother, friend).
    Sometimes, the person may act surprised and exclaim, "I know who you are!"
  • Start by asking a simple question.
    WAIT for a response. Be patient. Ask the initial question differently if you don't receive a response or change the subject.

As Alzheimer’s takes its toll, we struggle more to learn about the world our loved ones live in.

One day, about a year after my father had been living in the nursing home, he was irritated when I approached.

"Hi Mardig!" (We called him by his first name, Martin, in Armenian.) "How are you?" Feeling uncomfortable by how he was looking at me, I introduced myself. "I'm Brenda, your daughter."

Looking at me sternly, he said, "You're LATE!"

For what? I had NO IDEA!

"Are you with me or not?" he demanded.

Trying to be agreeable, I retorted, "I'm with you!" What could he be talking about?

"Well c'mon then. Let's go!"

"Uh, okay... you lead."

Would you believe -- No, you wouldn't; how could you? -- he wanted me to join him and his English Countrymen to fight the war?

And here's the funny part--He's Armenian! He's never been to England!

Being cooperative, I accompanied him through the secure doors into the lobby where we waited for the train to take us to England. How would be accomplish this from a nursing home in California?

When visiting a person with middle-stage Alzheimer's, first establish a connection through eye-contact, smile then learn what the person is thinking in order to have a more meaningful experience.

Brenda Avadian, MA
Caregiver for Alzheimer's / Dementia Expert Spokesperson, Coach, and Author

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