If your loved one has Alzheimer's, putting a smile on their face may seem like the least of your concerns. In reality it should be your first.
Yes you need to ensure their daily needs are being met, but if you can put a smile on their face, then half the battle is won. You'll minimize agitation, frustration and outbursts - the mood swings that make caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's so difficult.
After decades of experience working with Alzheimer's patients, here are three tips that can help increase your odds of turning that frown upside down.
REDIRECT & PLAY ALONG
This one takes a little imagination but can be very effective in avoiding unnecessary conflict. Validating your loved one’s emotions and thoughts are very important in ensuring your loved one feels safe and secure throughout the day.
Mrs. Smith who was a teacher may get up in the morning wanting to prepare her teaching material for the day and Mr. Roberts who was an accountant, may get highly anxious during tax season. Although they have memory loss, they still identify with their previous roles and we don’t want to challenge their identity.
Rather, we recommend you go with the flow, get creative and try redirecting them or even role play. Examples would be:
- “Mom, I am so happy you want to get to the classroom to prepare for your students but you are a little early, let’s go get some breakfast first;”
- “Dad, I know how busy it gets during tax season and how hard you work but right now the office is closed and we can bring you to the office tomorrow.”
This technique avoids confronting your loved one with reality. Rather it validates their feelings and at the same time redirects their behavior to another activity or task. It helps avoid significant confusion, frustration, confrontation and sadness.
BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ENERGY YOU BRING IN THE ROOM
Whether it's being repetitive or simply requiring a huge amount of your emotional and physical bandwidth, taking care of someone with Alzheimer's can require the patience of Job. Unfortunately, sometimes it can bring out our worst.
Never underestimate the power of non verbal cues - body language, facial expressions and tone - can have on your loved one. If you feel that you are not prepared to visit or make that phone call given your own mood take the time and wait it out. Make the call at a later time or even the next day. The time you take to care for yourself will allow you to have a more positive and friendly visit. Make sure to walk into the room with a smile. Be perky, friendly, warm and caring. Be the person you'd want taking care of you.
BE REASSURING AND NURTURING
Alzheimer's patients often have fears and anxieties. Be a reassuring presence.
You can do this by validating their fear and then reassuring them that everything will be ok. You can also do this physically through touch. Place your hand on their arm, giving them a hug, or put your arm around their shoulder. Another technique is giving a 5 minute hand massage each day. Just like physical touch is reassuring to an infant, it can be reassuring to an Alzheimer's patient. Research has shown it can reduce stress and anxiety and promote relaxation. Give it a try and see if you get a smile!
If you have any questions feel free to ask! We're here to help.