The Magic of Friendship and Redirection in Caring for Someone with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease

In the world of memory care, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, there is one phrase Caregivers must always keep at the forefront of their mind: “If they knew what they were doing they would have a different diagnosis.” Patience is the name of the game for a Caregiver spending a large chunk of their day supporting someone with mild cognitive impairment, or a full out dementia diagnosis.

It can be helpful to acknowledge that each day is a renewed test of patience and will. Memory loss comes with all sorts of behaviors and they can creep into the everyday—some of these behaviors come on suddenly and some are a little more predictable. As a Family Caregiver, some of their behaviors might feel embarrassing to you, or bring up ‘unwelcomed’ feelings like sadness, anger, guilt, or isolation.

Unfortunately, at the very same time that Caregivers may be experiencing all those normal, but unwelcomed feelings, there is a natural tendency to spend less and less time with friends and family. However, nothing could be better for you and your loved one! Building a strong support network and encouraging connection is extremely important. It’s been scientifically proven, good friends are good for your brain health. Really! A visit with a friend can be the best stress reliever. It allows for laughter, and being present, in the moment, which brings down blood pressure and helps to regulate emotions.

So, if you are a Caregiver that is losing connection with friends and family, perhaps it is time to reconnect. At the same time, to alleviate stress for your loved one with memory loss, you can offer friends and family a short Dementia Friendly training.  There are some simple ways they can help a visit go more smoothly. …And the other secret… is for you to say yes to offers of visits and a little extra help. Here are eight Dementia Friendly tips you can offer to friends and family visitors. (Feel free to share this article!). 

Being Dementia Friendly – Tips for Friends and Family Visitors

  1. Your friendship matters: Set a time to come visit Caregivers and the Care Receiver. Bring a warm smile and an unhurried pace. About an hour is a good amount of time to visit.
  • Time of day matters: Ask the Caregiver what time is best. No surprise visits. For most people with memory loss, late morning or early afternoon is the best time to visit. Early morning and evenings can be tough times of the day.  Also, it is best not to disrupt an established routine of showering, meals and bedtime. Consistency really helps alleviate fear and agitation for persons living with memory loss.
  • You should offer to bring a favorite snack/treat to share (non-alcoholic*) or wash up the dishes if you are invited at meal time. Your goal is to give the Family Caregiver a little down time. They won’t get any down time if they are busy playing hostess to you. (*Memory loss, medications and alcohol don’t mix well. If you used to grab a beer or a wine together—consider a sparkling cider, grape juice, or a mug of sugar-free root beer.)
  • You provide levity and connection for the Caregiver: You are a lifeline, a glimpse at the average everyday world outside of caregiving and their home. Don’t be afraid to share what you have been up to – travel, holidays, good news, or the new song you like on radio.
  • You provide a break for the Care Receiver too, it’s called ‘Change of Face’: It is a true technique in the world of memory care—Change of Face. Essentially, when a person in care is confused, anxious, or agitated, you can provide another encounter, a change from the face they see all the time. No matter how much you love someone, everyone needs a break from 24/7 togetherness. You can provide that short bit of respite just by visiting with them, while the Caregiver does something else (a nap, a shower, meal prep, a 10-minute walk or brief meditation).  
  • You can spark joy with ‘past-tense’ topics: When interacting with someone who has advancing dementia, most people would describe that person as ‘fading away’, or they now have a ‘flat affect’. You can bring out their smile with your conversation. Truly, they are in there, under the confusion and fear. Because your visit is only an hour (see number 1), you have an opportunity to be an active and engaged listener even if they have repetitious storytelling, or they circle back to the same topic. Assure the Caregiver you don’t mind the repetition. Talk about things they know from their life history: If they know all the great places to fish, or worked as a teacher, or loved to shop at Nordstrom, talk about those things from their long-term memory.  
  • You can assist with another technique called Redirection: If the person facing memory loss seems caught up in a moment of worry or frustration, you can acknowledge the feeling you are seeing and offer some new topic or something you can do together. For example, “You look a little worried, your wife will be here in a few minutes. While you are waiting, would you like a cup of tea?” (or the treat you brought with you, as noted in number 3 above).
  • You can help create calm as you leave: Avoid those long-winded goodbyes; or promises of when you will be back to visit (dates and times can be overwhelming to people facing memory loss). You can always reach out to the Caregiver after; or set a consistent day of the week or month, that you will visit. Keep your goodbye simple, for example, “It was so nice to spend time with you.”

Caregivers, if you feel you don’t have time to educate your friends and family, you can e-mail a link to this article with the eight tips. Set some intention around allowing more visitors in your life, and more meaningful interactions for everyone involved. Trust that your visitors want to be there for both of you and they appreciate knowing their time really made a difference. 

For more visiting tips and training, or to gain support with regulating those normal, but unwelcome feelings that Family Caregivers frequently encounter, you can reach out to Sunshine Care Assisted Living Homes and learn more about their monthly Family Caregiver support group. They specialize in memory care and have Caregivers on duty that will visit with your loved one while you attend the meeting. You can plan with their team: They understand that you might need support unloading from the car, or they can have a specific activity on hand to engage with your loved one facing memory loss. For more information, or to RSVP for the support group, call 1-800-811-9595, or visit them online at www.sunshinecare.com


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