November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, a time to heighten awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and show support for the more than 6 million Americans living with it, as well as their caregivers.

About Alzheimer’s disease

It is likely that you, or someone you know, may have a loved one diagnosed at some time with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

The Mayo Clinic describes dementia as “a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with your daily life.” The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s may impact an individual’s capacity to think, remember and reason. They may begin having difficulty with their ability to manage appointments, medications and instrumental activities of daily living. Many people go undiagnosed with dementia due to a lack of understanding in the community.

With each day, the impairment may grow steadily worse. Caregiving in this situation is highly demanding, and attempts at communication may become particularly challenging.

It is estimated that nearly 70 percent of older adults with Alzheimer’s or other dementias reside in the community (outside a hospital or clinical setting). About 26 percent of these individuals live alone, but the remainder receives care from family members, unpaid caregivers, and community-based and residential care providers. By age 80, 75 percent of people with Alzheimer’s dementia reside in a nursing home.

With dementia and Alzheimer’s, we cannot change the person, but we can change our approach to interacting with them and adapt the environment to promote the individual’s highest quality of life. It is important that caregivers, family and friends focus on the abilities that remain in their loved one with dementia-Alzheimer’s, while promoting the individual to be as independent as possible.

Here are a few tips that may foster better conversation and understanding with your loved one with Alzheimer’s-dementia:

• Have a full and clear knowledge of their abilities. Use these abilities in talking with them, as well as language they understand, as this will avoid frustration.

• Use their first name in speaking to them, and never talk about them in their presence as if they weren’t there.

• Approach them from the front to avoid surprise.

• Always speak at the same physical level so they can see you.

• You can use touch as reassurance or to get their attention, but use it with care and stop if it causes agitation.

• Identify yourself before addressing the person by name. Introduce others in the room by name, and have your loved one repeat the name to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to identify people in social situations.

• Don’t use pronouns; use names as often as possible in conversation to avoid confusion.

• Use simple words favoring sentences and statements over questions. Avoid questions with one-word answers. Stay away from memory questions, as this may cause frustration.

• If they use the wrong word, don’t correct them or call it out. If it can be done nonchalantly, work the correct word into the conversation.

• Use repetition. It’s better to be overly repetitive than cause frustration or aggravation.

• Converse slowly, giving them plenty of time to respond.

• Smile and use humor.

As the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias grows, it’s more important than ever for care professionals to implement the latest approaches to quality care. High-quality Dementia Care Training can lead to an improvement in communication between caregivers and those living with dementia, a reduction in dementia-related behaviors, and an increase in successful, meaningful outcomes for individuals with dementia-Alzheimer’s.

Jim Cornelius is executive director Benedictine Living Community-Wahpeton.

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