This is part of an ongoing series of guest blogs written by Jo Huey, the Alzheimer’s Advocate®, founder of the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Institute.
In our last post, we talked about the 4th Absolute of communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s: Never lecture, instead reassure.
Today, we’ll explore the Fifth Absolute:
#5: Never say, “remember,” instead reminisce.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Alzheimer’s disease progressively impairs the parts of the brain that house short-term memories, language and logical thought.
The disease then moves on to the parts of the brain that control emotions and processing of the senses (i.e., sight, smell, touch, etc.). Eventually, the disease attacks the part of the brain that stores one’s most precious memories (e.g., wedding day, birth of a child, etc.).
Keeping this in mind, try to avoid asking someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia if they “remember” something or someone. Just as you wouldn’t ask a blind person if they’d just seen a new movie or read a recent book, you shouldn’t ask someone with memory impairment, “Remember when … ?”
I understand this can be a difficult habit to break, given we are so inclined to start conversations this way. Even when doctors are trying to diagnose the illness, they commonly ask Alzheimer’s patients to recall/remember things.
The problem with this is that the person with Alzheimer’s really can’t remember, even if they try. Not only is this frustrating and embarrassing for them, but it can lead to social withdrawal. It’s not uncommon for them to refuse to respond or even walk away.
Instead of asking them if they “remember,” try starting the conversation with a statement.
For example, if you’re looking through a photo album, don’t point at a photo and say, “Remember Bob and Sue’s wedding?” Instead, point to the photo and say, “This looks like it was taken at Bob and Sue’s wedding.”
This way, you’re not putting them on the spot. If they remember, great! They will feel a part of the conversation and enjoy reminiscing with you. If not, they can simply enjoy looking through the photos with you as you tell them the story of Bob and Sue’s wedding day.
In our next post, we’ll explore the Sixth Absolute: Never say, “I told you,” instead repeat/regroup.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of H.H. Franchising Systems, Inc.