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 Dealing with Dementia

A list of Do´s and Don´ts in the light of Christ when dealing with family & friends with Alzheimer, dementia or any other memory loss or cognitive problem

I have always been a To Do list kind of person. I found that it makes things easier for me; just the fact that I am able to catalog what is needed is useful to me. And as I grow older, I found myself making lists of a more abstract nature, such as wisdom tidbits, and they help me just the same. Recently, I was researching some information on-line about a difficult topic and I found a terrific list from Lyz Ayres “Compassionate Communication With the Memory Impaired”. This list of Do´s and Don´ts touched me so much that I copied it and then tweaked it again and again. I kept coming back to it as I was pondering it in the light of the Works of Mercy and the Beatitudes. Finally this is my own version:


1. Don’t reason or argue, aim for simplicity, patience and kindness for “Blessed are the peacemakers” .

2. Don’t yell and don’t confront! You are not there to scare them into shape.

3. Don’t ask too many questions (what did you have for lunch?) remember that routine questions for us can be frustrating for them; who wants to be quizzed when they thought you were just here to hug them. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” .

4. Don’t YOU be obstinate about making them do something, wait 5 minutes, then try again, exercise your own flexibility - which is another word for meekness…

5. Don’t indulge in a negative interior conversation (“this is crazy, this is getting worse”) it will only weaken you and make YOU feel bad.

6. Don’t see only the pessimistic and scary angle of the circumstances, find the funny ones and the quirky ones too, detach yourself from the situation, imagine it as a movie, a sort of epic/comic drama…

7. Don’t forget to appreciate and be thankful for the shared moments of calm and comfort, for any blessings of joy and tenderness.

But do:

1. Do give short explanations, allow time for comprehension and then some more. Remember “To clothe the naked” : elderly people are so vulnerable that they are “naked” in front of us and we should “cloth” them with a mantle of trust and love.

2. Do answer questions exactly the same way or change the wording slightly; know that it will not stop the repeating; accept and acquiesce for “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy”.

3. When needed, distract them to a different activity; think of it as “Visiting the ones in prison”; they are in the prison of their infirmities, they are stuck with the ignominies of sickness and old age, your visit should be a break for them.

4. Do treat them with dignity, Don’t speak to them like a child or, even worse, as if they were not there… We all want R E S P E C T.

5. Accept the blame when something is wrong, even if it is a misinterpretation; take it as a blessing that you can carry this small cross for them “Bear wrongs patiently” .

6. Be patient and kind, supportive and reassuring (remember that is what you would want if you were in their shoes).

7. And the best advice yet: practice 110% forgiveness! Jesus said “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” This forgiveness should be directed towards them as much as it should be towards ourselves, for the moments when we failed them. Forgive, forget and try again.

It is very appropriate to reflect on this since we all live longer (which is good) and since there are more and more of us displaying such cognitive problems (which is not so good). But this reality goes to the heart of the Christian life: taking care of others, making them as comfortable as possible, helping them enjoy the little things of life, one laugh and one hug at a time. It is a challenge and this is why I make such simple practical To Do list, I am the first one to need them! And because, under pressure, I might not be able to see the whole picture of a life of charity but I can certainly concentrate on one good deed at a time and ask if they want a glass of water and remember to smile…

May God bless us all
The weak and the strong
The ones with a need and the ones able to care for them

Copyright ©2011 Michèle Szekely

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