Being an Alzheimer's or dementia caregiver offers many challenges and difficulties. It doesn't matter, if you are a non-paid family member, or paid staff, similar frustrations abound. One of the most difficult tasks an Alzheimer's caregiver faces is the development of a new set of communication skills.
As you care for your loved one, the disease process will be out of your control, and that can be very frustrating and frightening. One way to remain in control is by knowing what to expect.
So, what do we expect when it comes to communication?
Of course, we want conversations to be the way they were. Who wouldn't? Unfortunately, Alzheimer's disease is a relentless enemy of words, of communication, of conversations. As a caregiver, you must realize that the way they have communicated in the past, before Alzheimer's, will not work in a world lived with Alzheimer's.
As the disease progresses, these memory deficits intensify and create related problems such as repetitive questions and limited verbal output, characterized as "empty speech." Over time spoken output is further eroded to echolalic, perseverative, and paraphasic speech, then to incoherent vocalizations, and finally to mutism (Bourgeois & Hickey, 2007; 2009).
Difficulties with communication can be upsetting and frustrating for the person with dementia and for those around them, but there are many ways to help make sure that you understand each other, one of which is augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), or communication methods used to supplement or replace speech or writing for those with language impairments.
Additionally, understanding that areas of preserved ability—such as reading, writing, and certain procedural skills—that remain functional until the later stages of the disease can be helpful in understanding what styles of communication will best work while caring for persons with Alzheimer's.
Non-verbal communication is particularly important when a person with dementia is losing their language skills.
For these reasons, it is becoming more understood for caregivers and health care professionals to supplement verbal communication, and add visual communication (or visual cues) for better, more effective ways to continue ongoing communication throughout the duration of the disease.
The Alzheimer's Association notes the importance of adding visual cues in it's daily care, communication and Alzheimer's online page. It states, "Give visual cues: To help demonstrate the task, point or touch the item you want the individual to use or begin the task for the person." Additionally, "Use short, simple words and sentences" is given as a communication and Alzheimer's tip.
This is, in essence, what the product Caregiver Cards is. Caregiver Cards is a picture-based communication aid and visual support helping to make communication possible for adults and elderly who experience speech or cognitive loss due to stroke, traumatic brain injury, neurological disorders, Alzheimer's disease and related dementia, autism and other developmental disabilities.
Caregiver Cards is dementia or Alzheimer's cue cards.
Recently, the owners of Ralph and Millie's Adult Day Retreat invited me to come over, share the day with their guests, and show how Caregiver Cards might be able to help.
It was a great day! Not just because the staff at Ralph and Millie's are so neat to be around, or that I was able to take my girls with me, for a Mother-Daughter work day, or that I was able to use Caregiver Cards to help reduce a sweet lady's, who has dementia, anxiety, but because the whole day was focused on connections!
Connections with the staff, residents, and family.
Isn't that what's important after all?! Sure, I missed having regular conversations when caring for my Granga, when she lived with Alzheimer's, and the constant repetition was maddening somedays, but the driving force for the emotional and mental frustrations, was the feeling of disconnect.
Thankfully, I was able to be educated and understand the importance of changing my communication outlook, to understand how communication must change in an Alzheimer's world. I learned to appreciate non-verbal communication and visual cues.
Supporting someone's communication through cueing or tools is not intuitive, however. Caregivers may require specific training to learn positive interaction styles and cuing strategies.
Last modified on Tuesday, 13 January 2015 23:24