Seniors with Alzheimer’s may ask uncomfortable questions
Alzheimer’s or dementia can cause seniors to get confused and forget key details about their lives. This might mean that your older adult asks sensitive questions that are difficult to answer.
The Center for Dementia Care at Seniors At Home, the in-home care division of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, shares tips for what to say if you find yourself having one of these tough conversations.
3 difficult conversations with seniors with Alzheimer’s
1. How do I tell my mother who has dementia that a relative is dying or has passed away?
You should first consider if knowing that will actually benefit your mom. What would she do with that information? Would she remember if you told her the truth? Or would she get upset, forget about it, and later, ask and get upset all over again?
Depending on where someone is in the disease, giving them upsetting news may not be good for them or you. If they’re still able to process and retain that information, you might want to tell them.
But if their short-term memory is poor and they get easily upset or scared, it will probably be better to avoid the subject or even tell a fib. That helps you avoid hurting them with information they won’t be able fully understand.
Another thing to think about is if sharing this news is really for them or if it’s more for yourself. For many, it can be about easing the guilt of “withholding” information.
When someone has dementia, you shouldn’t feel guilty about not giving them news that will only upset or scare them. They won’t have the ability to work through their feelings like you would, so not telling them is actually kinder and more appropriate for the situation.
2. How should I respond to the painful emotional questions my mother repeatedly asks?
The best approach is to focus on the emotion behind the question, instead of on the actual words she’s using.
Avoid correcting, contradicting, or confronting her. Instead, think about joining her reality and meeting the needs she isn’t able to communicate.
For example, a person who asks about their mother (who is deceased) might be searching for someone or something to comfort her. In this situation, offer a hug, a blanket, or a favorite snack. Gently encourage her to talk about what her mother looked like, felt like, and about conversations they had.
Another example is if someone with dementia constantly asks about your husband (who you divorced years ago). You could give generic answer like, “Fred? He’s doing great.” Then, calmly change the subject by saying, “There are so many great memories, let’s look at some family photos.” Get some family photos and look at their favorites – avoiding any with your ex-husband in them.
3. I don’t understand what my father is saying because it doesn’t make any sense.
The most important thing is to respond calmly, pleasantly, and positively to whatever he’s saying. Avoid quizzes or asking questions that require him to remember things – in fact, it’s best to eliminate the word “remember” from your vocabulary entirely.
Instead, engage his other senses in the present moment. Look at pictures, get engaged in an activity, use aromatherapy, give a light massage, or listen to his favorite music.
You might also like:
— 3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home
— 4 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Keeps Repeating Questions
— 7 Ways to Respond to Mean Dementia Behavior
Guest expert: Seniors At Home helps older adults live independently and provides peace of mind to their families. We partner with you to solve problems, enhance quality of life, and provide a safe and supportive living environment. Our comprehensive services include non-medical home care, geriatric care management, palliative care, dementia care, fiduciary services, and more. For more information, please call us at 415-449-3777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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