Most of us have been talking to our parents ever since we learned to talk. But, if
your parent is beginning to show signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s, you are going to
need to learn to talk all over again. Words can trigger all kinds of different responses.
Alzheimer’s is just one of many types of dementia, all of which are marked by
irreversible and irreparable declines in mental function and will destroy memory
and thinking skills.
Confusing Common Expressions
Conventional phrases and ideas — things we all say without really thinking — can be
puzzling to someone experiencing reduced mental capacity. Phrases like, “I’m going
home now,” “Remember. . . ?” and reminders of lost loved ones can all be quite
confusing to someone who is battling any form of dementia.
Many commonly used words and phrases evoke strong feelings. The feelings are not
identical in everyone, of course, but the human brain is wired to attach certain
emotions to particular ideas and concepts. These words are referred to as “trigger
words,” alluding to the fact that they cause immediate automatic reactions.
Words that trigger
Research shows that the word “home” is the single most common trigger word. It is
a word that inspires strong memories, regardless of how recent or buried those
recollections may be. When it is time to end your visit with your parent, try to avoid
saying that you are going home. More often than not, Mom or Dad will naturally
assume that they are going along. Instead of announcing your intent to”go home”
gather your things with reassurances that you have to run out for a little while, but
that you will be back soon. Most of us have been telling little white lies to our
parents almost as long as we’ve been talking to them, after all.
In explaining that you are leaving without them, you may also fall into the trap of
explaining that they “live here now”. Often, dementia patients do not realize that
their stay in assisted living is permanent. This news can be perplexing and
upsetting, even when it is old news. If you find yourself in this situation, reassure
them that their doctor wants them to stay for a while. This type of response will
invoke a natural inclination to follow doctors orders and address any innate
feelings of confusion and fear.
Reminiscing with your parent about events that took place a long time ago, when
you — or she — were a child for instance, can be comforting for both of you. And in
those conversations, it is perfectly acceptable to ask your mother if she remembers
a specific moment.
When, on the other hand, she forgets that she has already had lunch or has an
upcoming appointment, it can be startling and rude to say, “Don’t you remember?”
The fact is that they really do not remember. Certainly, this can be frustrating, but it
is vital that you take a deep breath and restate the fact. Yes, again.
Here and Now
Commonly, a person battling dementia or Alzheimer’s will seem to live in the past.
Your 80-year-old mother may ask where her own mother is. It is paramount that
you not remind her of the loss of a loved one. This new-to-her information can
ignite feelings of melancholy all over again. When she queries about where
someone from her past might be, answer her question with a question: “Where do
you think Dad might be?” for example. Reassure her that whatever she thinks is
distinctly possible. “I’ll bet you’re right.” “He may still be at the office” is a harmless
and comforting delusion. Your mom insisted that you were the best one in the piano
recital, if you recall.
Keep It Upbeat
Bear in mind that you can put a positive spin on almost every potentially baffling
statement. It may take a little while to learn to speaking this new language, but
attempt to keep all of your interactions encouraging and pertinent to your parent’s
And remind yourself that they have invested quite a bit of their life teaching you
along the way.
We are here to help. Please feel free to call us to discuss your loved ones needs.