I was recently speaking with someone who shared that their family member has Alzheimer’s. I asked this person, who had been very close with the Alzheimer’s individual, about visiting with them. They said they did not spend a lot of time together anymore because it was so difficult to communicate. This really saddened me. I have had family members who suffered from Alzheimer’s and I personally recognize the challenge with having conversations since they can’t recall many memories.
A technique that I encourage when I am helping families have difficult conversations is to be open-minded and curious. This is incredibly helpful to generate more possible solutions to a conflict and increase the opportunity for a resolution to be reached.
As I was thinking about this situation, I thought that being open-minded and curious might work well in conversing with those with Alzheimer’s. The discomfort that many of us feel is the frustration of the individual with Alzheimer’s not remembering the memory correctly. We naturally begin correcting their recall. In the training I have taken about Alzheimer’s and Dementia, this is strongly discouraged as it can agitate both individuals. Additionally, it isn’t going to assist the person with Alzheimer’s in remembering the details accurately. For example, let’s say the conversation is about a family celebration in the past. The senior may talk about people who were a part of the celebration that weren’t actually there. Our natural tendency is to point out that the people they are mentioning weren’t there (something like, Mom, don’t you remember that Susie wasn’t there because she was away at college?). Pointing this out won’t help them to remember and can upset them about the fact that they can’t remember. Does it matter that Susie wasn’t there?
But what if we became curious and open-minded about how they remember a particular memory on that particular day? For example, what was Susie doing at the party? Do you think she had fun? Wasn’t that nice that she could be there? What else do you remember about the party? Not only could we create a whole new memory, but we could relax into being really present, focusing on listening, responding and seeing where this new conversation and memory creation takes us.
This disease is so difficult and any way that we can continue to be engaged with our loved ones and create positive memories will be so valuable for everyone. I help families have sensitive conversations so they can make important decisions with their elderly family member and find comfort in challenging situations and transitions.