In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, the possibilities of clear communication gradually decrease with time. It will become a challenge for the people around the patient including his/her spouse, kids, family members. But with a little patience and understanding, it is possible to improve the quality of life for older adults.
It is well known that telecommunicating with an elderly person with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult and emotional. You need to understand the disease and the issues of communication it creates, this way you may learn how to connect with your patient better and provide him support and comfort. This isn’t possible in a day, you need to go through some trial-and-error efforts, several training sessions, and also learn effective techniques for communicating with people in various stages of the disease.
But all those training and communication sessions will work when you can communicate with the patient who has Alzheimer’s disease face to face. However, due to the pandemic, if you are separated from your family, phone and video calls are the only forms of communication you have with them. Then what would you do to make virtual communication with the patient? Was he/she able to understand you properly over the video chat?
Here I am going to inform you about such methods to make it happen.
These new tips for virtual communication can be helpful to chat with a patient having Alzheimer’s disease.
Choose the right time of the day
The initial step to making clear telecommunication with the patient having Alzheimer’s disease is to choose a perfect time of the day to call him/her. The best time to make a call is when the patient is resting and most alert.
As per the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease has a deep impact on the person’s sleep cycle. It has several effects on sleep timing, including:
- Severe insomnia or difficulty in sleeping at night
- Mostly daytime naps
- Longer sleep time
- Having drowsiness all-day
Patients with this disease often wake up late in the day, normally around 11 a.m. or noon. You need to know when he/she is most alert during the entire day. This is the best time to make the call. It is better not to call during mealtime or when he/she is having any activities.
It is not possible to pick the exact time to call him/her on the first attempt. You must find the perfect time after using some trial and error attempts, as the disease progresses. You should also get some information regarding this issue from the caregivers, learn about brain conditions associated with dementia & Alzheimer’s disease, and maintain a calendar of symptoms which will be beneficial to choose the best time to make the video call.
Approaches with simplicity
You must start talking to the patient in a one-on-one conversation. There shouldn’t be another person, if possible. Make sure you are having this session in a quiet space with minimal distractions.
The Alzheimer’s Association suggests starting the conversation by identifying yourself by name. You should get the attention first and remind them who you are.
You should speak slowly and clearly to the person while maintaining direct eye contact. This way the other person or the patient will believe that you are paying him/her full attention and carefully listening to what he/she is saying. You shouldn’t be impatient and let the patient have enough time to respond.
- Try to ask one question at a time and make sure the answer can be given in a few words. It is better if you ask yes or no questions mostly. For example, you may ask him/her – “Hi, had your lunch?” rather than – “What did you eat for breakfast?”
- Avoid such questions that can push to think too much or put pressure on his/her brain.
- Do not talk about things that may upset the patient. Avoid criticizing or correcting him/her. Make him/her feel that you are happy to see him/her.
- Listen carefully to what he/she says and try to figure out the meaning as much as possible. Repeat words to clarify and avoid arguing about anything. If the person speaks about something you don’t like, try not to react or talk about it further.
The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that a patient with this disease should be treated with dignity and respect while having a conversation. Proper visual support like pictures or props over the video chat may become useful to convey your messages properly.
Use common gestures
Along with verbal communication, nonverbal communication strategies such as common gestures or touch are also effective to communicate with patients having Alzheimer’s disease. However, when you chat with a patient over a video call, providing touch can’t be possible. Then you should convey your messages through verbal chat, accompanied by common gestures.
Try using these common gestures while chatting over a video with an Alzheimer’s patient:
- Waving your hands
- Showing a thumbs-up sign to appreciate
- Giving the “OK” sign
- Showing signs that you are speaking
- Giving more facial expressions
- Pointing to objects that you are talking about
- Counting with fingers and also asking them to count
- Measuring and showing size by using your hands
- Clapping and showing joyful signs with hands and facial expressions
- Using common gestures to say one-liners, such as “I LOVE YOU, I MISS YOU, SEE YA TOMORROW, GOODBYE” etc.
- Most importantly, I always talk with a smile.
These gestures not only help you to convey your words easily, but they will also help the patient to relax. With a calm and happy mind, the person can also easily show you similar gestures and convey what he/she is trying to say.
If the patient seems at a loss for words, ask him/her to point to an object and try to tell you the thing he/she wants to say.
A piece of advice, make sure the TV or radio is off and there are no other distractions when you are talking with the patient.
Discuss one topic at a time
As per Dementia Care Central, “people with dementia have problems with multiple thoughts at once,” so they are required to “focus on one idea or short story at a time. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia might not be able to participate in complex mental activities, which can occur when we have multiple topic discussions at a time. Maintaining such a conversation with multiple threads is impossible for those poor souls, so you should stick to one topic at a time.
Similarly, you should also avoid giving them tasks that include multiple steps. It is better to keep your instructions short, clear, and sweet. If possible, give them tasks one item at a time.
Make sure that your instruction shouldn’t confuse the patient. Memory problems are typically the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease so verbal instructions can be difficult for them to remember most of the time. You may write down the instructions in simple words, and show it via video call. They might find it easier to follow the steps when they can see the instructions clearly.
Try to connect with past memories
As I said earlier, memory loss is the most prominent feature of Alzheimer’s disease. But it’s still possible to make the patient remember the past via video call.
Instead of talking about recent incidents, you may focus on remembering him/her past incidents. Patients in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s may still have full memories from childhood, and they can remember it with help.
Music is another option to help patients with this disease effectively. Dementia Care Central revealed that dementia or Alzheimer’s patients can react positively to singing. A 2018 systematic review found that music can improve memory deficits for patients with Alzheimer’s, and a 2015 systematic review revealed that music can help patients with dementia to reduce anxiety.
So, while having a video chat, you may create a playlist with the patient’s favorite songs from the past, and listen together. When you share such a musical experience with the patient, make sure you are relaxed. It will also help the patient with the disease to be relaxed and comfortable.
While having a video chat, if you can’t figure out what to say to the person who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, your presence and compassion are necessary for improving their mental health.
If you show your honest concerns and feelings to the patients through your expressions, it will be an immense help to comfort those elderly people. They might forget who you are, but the time you spend with the patient, your presence, and the emotion you show is important.
Communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease via video chat is a challenge, but it will be a pleasant and satisfying experience for your loved ones. Helping them to remember an old memory or showing your love can almost work like professional treatment.