There is a standard practice that all caregivers, health professionals and first responders should always put into place when dealing with patients that suffer with dementia. I call it the "One Minute Rule."
When you're asking a loved one or patient a question who is a victim of Alzheimer's or any other dementia-related disease, you may not get a response, at least not right away. This is where you need to refer to the "One Minute Rule."
When you don't get an answer, the worse things you can do is to throw out another question or even repeat the original one in a hurried fashion. It may be taking them a little bit of extra time to ponder on an answer. If you start asking several questions in a row, you may never get any answers. I'm not saying you need to start staring at your watch, counting the seconds. However, you may need to give them a little bit of extra time to let your question sink in.
Even when giving them directions, you need to make sure you're only saying one at a time. I use to make the mistake of telling my father, "Okay, why don't you head to the bathroom so you can shower, brush your teeth and shave." Do you know what happened? Nothing!
As a caregiver, you need to slow yourself down and ask them to do one thing at a time. You will also have to keep adjusting your communication skills through the different stages of the disease.
You must learn to always face the patient directly, talking to them as if they need to read your lips. I admit I was guilty many times of saying something to my father as I was walking into another room, only to have to return and speak in a more direct manner, making sure he understood what I was saying. You have to be patient with them and yourself.
If you see that their confusion has risen, it is only common sense that this may not be the right time to be asking them questions, and if you are a health professional you should always have a family member present when asking vital questions.
All questions about something as serious as prescription history or their medical background need to be verified. I could have asked my father the same unsophisticated question twice within a 10-minute period and may have gotten two completely different answers.
A simple question such as "Where were you born?" could lead then to saying a city like Houston. A place where they've never been in their life, but for some reason it was right there on top of their thoughts.
Sadly with dementia-related diseases, their verbal skills will eventually deteriorate. My advice to all caregivers is to start studying their body language right away. Learn from their facial expressions: pain, depression, confusion and love. They're all in there.
You need to be patient and loving. Always remember that as the disease advances, communication becomes as frustrating for them as it does for you.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He can be reached at us41books@bellsouth .net. His newly released book, "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," "While I Still Can" and the expanded edition of "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness," can be found at www.common sensecaregiving.com.