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Alzheimer’s: How a caregiver can help to maintain a dying dignity

Nikol Schreiver, MA, CMHCNikol Schreiver, MA, CMHCOpening the gateway of understanding must occur if we as helpers are going to offer an appropriate quality of life.

So what is the Alzheimer’s experience? Imagine being told that within ten years or less you will no longer know who you are or who your family is. How might you feel? Your response may be to scream, get mad, or even be depressed. You may withdraw, and feel ashamed.

Understanding what someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD) may be feeling is critical in supporting them through the disease progression. Here are some hints or guides to live by:

  • Speak to the person, not at them or around them to someone else (e.g., the doctor at a visit). Regardless of whether the person appears to fully understand what you are asking or saying to them, speak to them.
  • Make eye contact; never make an assumption that they are not cognitively present in the conversation. This will show interest in them and will help them feel present, not feeling like “The Person with Alzheimer’s Disease.”
  • In communicating with a person who has AD, do not assume that completing sentences that appear to hang or be lost is appropriate. Individuals with AD have reported that this actually belittles them and they feel shame and embarrassment.
  • Also, regardless of how long you have known a person, make allowances for their behaviors. Even if you know someone should know better than to act in a specific manner, understanding that this knowledge is not present in the moment is key.

Have patience and understanding. The “act” is not on purpose. Having AD is difficult; however allowing a person to feel present in the midst of their loss of presence will help them ease through the transitions.

About Nikol Schreiver, MA, CMHC

Nikol Schreiver joined LifePath as a protective services worker after a career in law enforcement. She enjoys thinking critically about how to best serve elders living with all types of dementia and recently completed graduate training in clinical mental health counseling with a strong focus on gerontology.

Editor’s Note

November is both National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. Many family caregivers provide support to their loved ones who have Alzheimer’s. LifePath offers support to caregivers including a Dementia Caregivers Support Group, which meets the first and third Wednesday of each month from 5-7 p.m. in the large conference room at LifePath, 101 Munson St., Suite 201, Greenfield, MA 01301. Learn more about our Dementia Caregivers Support Group and other support options for caregivers or call 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259.