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Being a young caregiver for Alzheimer’s and dementia is challenging – as you already know. It feels like a bad book that I can’t put down, and I am forced to read, partake, to envelop myself. Over the past month or so, my mom has progressed with Alzheimer’s, losing some ability to communicate. As the Alzheimer’s Association puts it, my mom has demonstrated problems with speaking and writing words. According to this article from Healthline – a great article, by the way, she has progressed to the severely moderate stage of Alzheimer’s disease. As her caregiver, my new task is to figure out how to overcome this.

When I Realized The Communication Was Declining

The changes in vocabulary happened subtlety and over time. At first, she couldn’t think of a word here or there. Then she had a hard time engaging in conversation. Often, my mom would sit there silent, either not being able to keep up because family and friends talked too fast or not understanding what we were talking about. In some cases, my mom wanted to respond but realized by the time the words came, and the conversation had moved on.

Over the past few months, my mom has shown that her communication is dwindling, and once again, Alzheimer’s is winning. My mom can’t keep a conversation for more than a few minutes now. She can’t transition from one topic to another unless we state, “okay new topic,” and even then, that doesn’t always work.

Unable to Stay on Topic

The other day, I tried to help her find something by navigating her through the house over the phone—a daily conversation for us. After about 15ish minutes of searching and describing products to me that she has found, even though they are not what she is looking for – gotta love the short attention span, we agreed that I would help her find the item next time I am home. From there, we just started chatting because I know how her mood improves after a phone call. During the conversation about the weather, she replies with, “yea, you just plug in the white cord, and it goes.” I asked if she was talking about the face trimmer she was looking for she said yes, completely unaware that I was talking about something totally different.

Talking in Pronouns

The biggest thing I have noticed lately is that my mom has begun talking in all pronouns. As my English Major boyfriend likes to put it, she lacks the use of definitives, but that is a little too fancy for me. Instead of saying I added my coffee creamer and mixed it in with my coffee, she says I added it and put it in here with this. This is all well if I know what she is talking about, but it can be tough to track and understand if she goes off-topic—another caregiving challenge.

When your loved one can't follow the conversation, slow things down

How I Respond

At first, I was the worst. My reaction was to force a conversation style that I was used to. A fluid conversation that moves quickly and gets the point across. I was literally putting words in my mom’s mouth to finish her sentences and statements for her. Like I said, THE WORST!

Over time and a few well deserved angry outburst towards me, I started to learn how to adjust my communication style to work for my mom.

A key thing to remember as a caregiver for Alzheimer’s and dementia, you can adapt and change; your loved one can’t.

Some key things that I started doing

Remove distractions

Sounds are a huge distraction to my mom; she can’t put her full focus into the conversation. If I need her to engage fully, the TV gets muted or goes off. Other sounds that I can control are also turned off. She does so much better this way.

Don’t Interrupt

I used to try and finish my mom’s sentences to keep a conversation going, interrupting her in conversations to make sure I said what I needed to say. My advice to you – don’t do that! It has taken practice and patience, but when my mom is talking, I wait until she is completely done with her thought or statement. Then I wait some more just to make sure. Once a few seconds have passed- I try to count to 7 in your head, then respond. This has helped A LOT!

Find a key phrase

When my mom says, “Oh, what is the word,” that is my signal that I can jump in. I ask if I can help, and most often, she says yes. I can usually finish her sentence or thought by providing the correct term. If I can’t, I try to ask her to describe it. Once the word is found, I repeat her sentence with the word so we can go back to the conversation. Repeating the sentence helps my mom remember what we were talking about and keeps her engaged.

Clarify if you need to.

Like I said above, my mom talks in pronouns, and sometimes I really can’t follow her thought process. When this happens, I blame myself for getting clarification. This makes her feel better and opens up her willingness for me to ask clarifying questions. My statements are something like,

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. When you are saying it, do you mean the coffee creamer? And in here is in your coffee? Okay, got it, so you put the coffee creamer in your coffee, and then what.”

It has taken me two years to learn these tricks, and my tricks are always adapting. My biggest goal as a caregiver and I’m guessing yours too, is to try to have my mom engaged as much as she can before she can’t. One day she may be nonverbal, and I will wish for the days of pronoun conversations. For now, I am going to enjoy whatever moments I have with my mom.

“Making Sense out of Nonsense : The Role Reversal.” The Role Reversal, 8 Feb. 2021, therolereversal.com/making-sense-out-of-nonsense/