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home : features : community February 5, 2016

7/16/2014 5:47:00 AM
Communicating with dementia sufferers not always easy
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Internet photo illustration

Briana Lonas

Sometimes we take our memory for granted. Lost car keys and recalling a mental grocery list stumps even the best of us. But what if our memories and thoughts took a permanent vacation?

It's an unfortunate fact that worldwide, nearly 35.6 million people live with dementia, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO statistics reveal this number is expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050.

Dementia can be caused by a number of progressive disorders that affect memory, thinking, behavior and the ability to perform everyday activities, explained Judy Talley, Senior Community Liaison with Mountain Valley Regional Rehabilitation Hospital in Prescott Valley.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Talley spoke last week to an audience of about 50 people, many of whom are caregivers.

She began her presentation with a brief explanation of what happens when our brain processes and records events. The brain constantly takes pictures, like a camera, throughout the day, she explained.

Individuals with dementia are not able to retrieve the "memory card" of those pictures.

In fact, the affected brain never received the photos, or messages, in the first place, Talley explained.

"Short term memory is useful for routine, unremarkable activities," she said. Long-term memory is more for how-to functions, facts and words. This type of memory can be refreshed by recall, but the memories may change over time.

As caregivers and family members may notice, dementia affects more than just memory.

The condition also affects language, judgment, emotions, and physical functions such as swallowing and balance.

In addition, sequential thought becomes cloudy and thinking through A to B to C becomes very difficult, Talley said.

Talley offered several tips for those trying to communicate with a loved one:

• Tell, don't ask. For example, "It's time for lunch. We are going to eat now."

• Avoid asking questions such as "Do you want to eat now?" because often, the default answer will be "No" in many cases.

• Stay in the present. For example, "Hi, Linda. I'm Judy. Looks like you're ready to get dressed now."

• Offer leading statements such as, "Now, we're going to go outside. Let's get your coat and put it on."

• Offer limited choices such as chocolate or vanilla ice cream.

• Avoid starting conversations with a question.

• Be prepared to answer a question as if it's the first time, every time. It's always the first time for a person with memory loss.

• Minimize transitions. "Harry, it's time to go now," instead of, "Harry, we'll be leaving in ten minutes."

• Also, try not to get frustrated with the patient; it's not them, it's the disease causing the communication problems, Talley said.

To help further with communicating with a dementia sufferer, Talley recommends finding activities you can do together such as listening to music, playing games, working puzzles, gardening or even dancing.

Talley said she became interested in the field of gerontology because of her work in retirement centers.

Don Stewart, and his wife, Debbie, operate the Senior Connection, a resource for bringing together senior and caregiving services.

Stewart and his wife organized the presentation and offered that the chances for a better prognosis for those in the early stages of dementia could improve greatly if the individual feels more comfortable talking about it and consulting their doctor.

Years ago, people didn't talk about dementia or what it did to their families, he said. Now, there are support groups.

For more information about the Senior Connection and its services, call 928-778-3747, or visit SeniorConnection.us.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Article comment by: Debbie Stewart

Thank you Briana, for this important article on dementia. The Senior Connection puts on these educational presentations weekly. Please note, the correct contact number for the Senior Connection is 778-3747.

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