Slow & Steady

What you say and how you say it is critical in reducing anxiety in a person with dementia:

1. Ask one simple question at a time. Complex choices may overload the person’s decision-making ability.

2. Ask them to do one task at a time. They may not be able to remember several tasks or be unable to make sense of your message. Most things we ask a person to do— get ready for bed, put on a coat to go to the store—involve several tasks. The person with dementia may not be able to sort out these tasks. Break down each project into individual steps and ask them to do one step at a time.

3. Speak slowly, and wait for the person to respond. Their response may be much slower than what seems normal to us. Breathe. Wait.

Communication Breakdown

The progression of Alzheimer’s often results in crossed wires and short circuits. Here’s how I’ve learned to improve verbal communication with my mom:

  1. Lower the tone of your voice. A raised pitch is a nonverbal signal that one is upset. A lower pitch is also easier for a hearing-impaired person to hear.
  2. Eliminate distracting noises or activities. Because of a possible hearing deficit and because of the person’s inability to tune extraneous things out, she may be unable to understand you when there are noises or distractions around her.
  3. Use short words and short, simple sentences. Instead of saying, “I think I’ll take the car to the garage tonight instead of in the morning because in the morning I’ll be stuck in traffic,” just say, “I’m going to take the car to the garage now.”

Want more? Stay tuned!

Tick Tock


“I stashed all the clocks in the attic today,” said mom’s caregiver, who fills in when I’m gone. “Time is really stressing her out.”

Clocks and calendars are a cacophony of confusion for mom. Adrift on the time-space continuum, she’s never certain of the day of the week, the season, whether morning or night. “I’m having trouble understanding August,” she confessed and pointed to the calendar, now as perplexing as her windup clock.

Not being able to keep track of time makes her anxiously ask what time it is. Yet as soon as I answer, she’s forgotten the whole conversation and asks again.

At first, I didn’t get it. But I learned that as a result of lost brain functions, people with dementia can’t judge the passage of time. Since mom can’t remember what she’s done in the immediate past, she has no way to gauge how much time has passed.

When I finally accepted this, I received an unexpected gift: compassion.

The clocks may be hidden, but their numbers remain forever jumbled in her mind.