Individuals living with Alzheimer’s would be the first to tell you that reality is a burden because it seems to always get in the way of a lovely fantasy. Teepa Snow, who trained as an occupational therapist and studied neurology extensively, especially with Alzheimer’s, demonstrates the progression of Alzheimer’s as it affects different parts of the brain and what we might expect as a result of this progression. Anyone can get her DVD free of charge by simply filling out an application form at http://www.seniorhelpers.com/seniorgems .
In Contented Dementia the author, Oliver James, outlines the SPECALSENSE method for dealing effectively with Alzheimer’s. This method, perfected over many years of research, was created by Penelope Garner, and includes the following three tenets:
1. Don’t ask questions.
2. Learn from the experts.
3. Always agree, never interrupt.
On the surface these three tenets seem quite simple. Yet asking a question can actually disrupt a lovely fantasy faster than the blink of an eye and induce a rather aggressive response from someone living with Alzheimer’s. Asking a question serves as a reminder that their life is no longer the same, and they can sense that there is something wrong with them when they are unable to find the proper answer.
If you were challenged to not ask any questions for fifteen minutes at work or at home, how do you think you would succeed with this fieldwork? Behind every question is a statement, and the statement is what needs to be said instead of asking the question. For example, instead of asking “Would you like a cup of tea?” you might want to say, “I’m thirsty, let’s make a cup of tea together.”
Every Alzheimer’s person must be regarded as the expert because each person’s life is their own, their feelings are their own, and their experiences are their own. The more we take time to know about the individual, their personality, their preferences when they were younger, their likes and dislikes, the work they did when they were gainfully employed, how well they liked their work, and other aspects of their personality, the more effectively we can nurture and comfort them. They can teach us everything we need to know in order to keep them contented in their own dementia. As Naomi Feil demonstrates in this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrZXz10FcVM.
Too many family caregivers and professional caregivers correct someone with Alzheimer’s or interrupt them when they are expressing their feelings or asking a question. Because it is naturally difficult, if not impossible, for them to complete a sentence or a question, it is important not to interrupt so they can get as much of the information out as possible. Disagreeing or interrupting only serves to remind them that there is something wrong with them. This often leads to frustration and eventually aggression. And who is responsible for this – the one who has all their faculties and can understand the progression of this condition, or the person who is living with Alzheimer’s and can no longer recall facts about their life?
The skills that we all need to develop are to listen more, talk less, and comfort more. If we can learn those skills, we, too, will live lovely fantasies with our friends and loved ones who live with Alzheimer’s.
About the writer
E. G. Lord, former president of the Maine Gerontological Society in the State of Maine, currently is President and Professional Alzheimer’s Coach offering Alzheimer’s coaching and consulting through businesses at Remembering4You.com, and is a professor of organizational behaviour at several universities. Dr. Lord has a Doctorate of Management in Organizational Leadership from the University of Phoenix. Her ten-year experience as a family caregiver originated with her husband who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in January of 2003. In that decade she has seen a daily influx of new Alzheimer’s cases. Dr. Lord realized there is an urgent need for a change in perspective in regard to providing individual and institutional care for individuals living with Alzheimer’s. She is married to Maj. Larry S. Potter, USAF retired, and lives in Mapleton, Maine. Dr. Lord is available for presentations, training, and Alzheimer’s coaching/consulting.