As you may be aware, June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month. It’s important for many reasons – increasing awareness, providing resources, and educating the public about diseases that affect the brain and cognition.
Just as important, however, is what we can learn directly from those who are living with Alzheimer’s disease. No one is better at educating us how to converse and engage with them than the individuals themselves. At our Anthem Memory Care communities, we have witnessed, first hand, how adept our residents are at guiding those around them towards engaging in more meaningful interactions.
With that in mind, here are some things individuals living with dementia would like all of us to keep in mind when interacting with them.
- Talk to us, not about us. Often an individual with Alzheimer’s will be sitting right in front of someone only to be sidelined by third person talk. “How is he doing?” “How long ago was he diagnosed?” “He looks good.” Nothing is more distressing for an individual with dementia than being treated as though they can’t communicate when they are perfectly able to speak for themselves.
- Take the time to understand “why”. The less you understand about how the disease impacts the brain, the more likely you are to feel uncomfortable and come to incorrect conclusions about his or her situation. Individuals with dementia with more people would take the time in advance to understand the physiology of their condition. It will help you communicate in a more authentic way.
- Converse with us, don’t interrogate. Individuals living with dementia do not like to be quizzed with questions such as, “Do you remember who this is?” or “You remember how we all visited you last summer, don’t you?” Resist the temptation to quiz and, instead, keep the conversation focused on more general topics. They will guide you with their responses.
- Remember I am still “here”. You may have read the book “Still Alice” or seen the film. Identity is just as important to individuals with dementia as it is to all of us. While there will be some emotional changes, due to how the disease impacts the brain, individuals with Alzheimer’s want all of us to understand that the disease does not define them. They remain very much who they have always been.
There is much we can all learn from the vantage point of those living with dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association has written an excellent article on this topic, with additional insights, which you can read here.
As you educate yourself and become more knowledgeable don’t stop there! Share what you’ve learned with others who you think could benefit from a deeper understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Helping to dispel myths will foster more insightful conversation and engagement all around.
(Our header photo shows a resident of Chisholm Place Memory Care in Wichita, Kansas enjoying a watercolor session.)