When Elder Communication and Behaviors Intertwine

 

BE SENSITIVE 

Elder Communication is so important.  You may know that mom is incapable of managing her finances, but bluntly notifying her of that will not foster her acceptance of it.  One thing is for sure…parents love their children and care about how they feel.  Appeal to the sensitive nature of your mom.  Use an “I” statement instead of telling her what she cannot manage.  “Mom, I worry constantly that someone is going to take advantage of you in the management of your finances because you are so kind”.  Or “I see how frustrated and overwhelmed you get when you’re paying bills.  It makes me feel helpless and so concerned for your well-being.  It’s keeping me awake at night”. 

 

NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION IS POWERFUL

A parent with dementia may not always understand your words, but they see and feel your body language.  A furrowed brow, a scowl on your face, banging your hand on the table, rolling your eyes, aggressive body movement, slamming a door all can be seen and more importantly “felt”.  A strong non-verbal response from you can be the catalyst to negative behaviors from your loved one. 

 

“IT TAKES A VILLAGE”

The responsibility of caregiving is huge.  Relying on the support of all your siblings as your parents age is essential.  First ensure that you all see eye-to-eye on how to support your parents as they age.  Share the responsibility of visits and phone calls.  Getting the communication perspectives from all siblings with your parents will be helpful. Each child may solicit a different response from your parent based on the communication style.  It offers the opportunity to evaluate what styles evoke the best responses, both verbally and behaviorally with Elder Communication.

 

SLOW IT DOWN

It seems these days everyone is overloaded with the responsibilities of daily life.  Work, kids, house, family, sports, church.  We move through the day with speed and efficiency…texting, emailing, and instant messaging.  BUT this does not work when communicating with your dad who has dementia.  You must slow it down.  Sit, be present, put the phone away, look into his eyes, speak slowly and clearly.  It may take him several seconds, even minutes to speak his thoughts.  Allow for that time.  Avoid putting words in his mouth. Doing this will reduce a frustrated response from your dad. 

 

DO NOT FEEL THE NEED TO “CORRECT” YOUR PARENT DURING ELDER COMMUNICATION

If mom emphatically tells you she cannot go for a ride with you because your father will be home for dinner any minute, it might not be wise to blurt out “Dad passed away 3 years ago!” That could cause great emotional upset for her and ruin her day.  Instead ask questions and encourage her to reminisce: “What did you love most about dad?   What was his favorite meal, etc.?”  Once given the opportunity to focus on pleasant memories she may even want to take that drive. 

 

“I NEED YOUR HELP

A phrase that most people readily respond to, even a parent with dementia. Insisting your dad wear a pendant that will monitor falls in the home may cause him to staunchly refuse and become belligerent.  But if you say “Dad, I have not been able to sleep for days.  I am so worried that you may have a fall when you are alone, and I will not know.  Can you help me alleviate this fear of mine by wearing the pendant?  I need sleep to improve my health. 

“LET IT GO”

Sometimes it is ok not to intervene if no actual harm is being done.  When dad comes downstairs with plaid pants and a striped shirt, it may be embarrassing, but it is not harmful.   Insisting he change might frustrate him and cause a negative behavior.  If mom re-washes the dishes she just washed it might not be necessary to stop her and explain she just washed them.  She is content and no harm has been done. 

A NEGATIVE BEHAVIOR CAN BE THE SIGN OF AN UNMET NEED DURING ELDER COMMUNICATION

Understand that sometimes an undesirable behavior such as lashing out, or screaming or just being “mean” can be the direct result of having a need that is unmet that a parent with dementia cannot verbalize.  Take the time to survey the environment and see if you can pinpoint the cause with Elder Communication: 

  • Does the house seem to hot or too cold? 
  • When was the last time your dad ate? 
  • Is mom drinking enough water?  Could she be dehydrated? 
  • When was the last time pain medication was given?  Could dad’s arthritis be flaring up? 
  • Does mom wear a protective undergarment?  Does she need help changing into a fresh one? 
  • Are hearing aids working? 
  • Does dad have his glasses on? 

“PEOPLE WILL NEVER FORGET HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL”

A famous Maya Angelou quote says “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Please refrain from scolding your parent.  Even if they are behaving like a child, avoid treating them like a child.  They have lived long lives and while their mind might be failing them their heart is intact.  Always treat them with love, patience, and dignity despite the circumstance.  If they don’t understand your words they will understand the positive feelings that you bring to them.