Learning to communicate and enjoy time with someone with dementia

This is a very sweet article from The New York Times about a son who learns to communicate and enjoy time with his mother with Alzheimer’s.

Here are the key excerpts:

My oldest brother [Mark] … talks to my mom by phone every day. He enjoys trading gibberish with her in their incomprehensible conversations. “She’s completely unplugged from reality and disoriented to time and space,” Mark says. “It doesn’t make any sense, so why not have a good time?” At first, I worried Mark’s antics were making fun of my mom — laughing at her, rather than with her. Then I tried it. I stopped concentrating on the content of her words and, instead, went along with every twist. Once she said she wanted to go somewhere for a picnic. “Why, Mom?” I asked. She said: “So we can boil the chicken.” Rather than grilling her about what she meant, I asked what kind of chicken we should boil and where we should hold this picnic.

Mom’s private caregiver, Ellen Knapp, … taught me how to talk to Mom in this new phase of her life. The technique is called validation, and Ellen learned it from a veteran author and psychologist, Naomi Feil. As Ms. Feil explains it to me in a phone interview, this translates to “accepting whatever behavior the person has and trying to become a part of it.” For example, a carpenter with Alzheimer’s might pound his fist against a wall. The wrong way to talk to him would be to say, “Why are you pounding the wall? Stop it!” The right way would be to ask, “Is that wood made out of oak or pine?”

I’m not exactly a Jedi knight of this technique, but I find it relaxes Mom and makes her more easygoing and less frustrated. The key, for me, is to stop judging or trying to analyze or change her behavior. That means fewer questions about her past, even if that subject is difficult for me to avoid — in the past, she was my mom! That’s what I really want to talk to her about, not chickens and picnics. Occasionally I can’t resist and I ask whether she remembers Dad, her husband of 54 years. Sometimes she says yes. Sometimes she says no. It’s a dead end either way.

Here’s a link to the article:


SundayReview | Opinion
New York Times
My Mother, Lost and Found
By Steve Knopper
July 11, 2015

Well worth reading…