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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
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“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.
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of my move from New England to the West. My parents, long-divorced, still live on the East Coast. As they come to need more help, for the past three years I’ve shuttled between family life in the desert and back east where I grew up.
My caregiving horizon goes beyond taking care of people. Its broad tentacles encompass houses and pets, too.
As household manager of multiple households, my resume skills have expanded: family caregiver, Power of Attorney, financial expert, property maintenance. I handle new generators, furnaces, and plumbing systems, not to mention leaky roofs and a mouse infestation for two century-plus houses. Mercifully, my husband oversees the house in the West.
Like my first exposure to dementia, I knew nothing about old houses. And, like dementia, nothing is certain with an old house.