Do you spend time with a loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s? Whether you are the caregiver, family member or close friend, you may struggle to communicate or connect with the loved one due to the loss of cognitive ability. And part of the problem may be that you try to communicate about recent or current events.

With dementia, most recent memories are the first to go, which makes communicating with Alzheimer’s patients difficult.

As John Schmid explains in his “Reminiscence and Alzheimer’s Disease” article, “Alzheimer’s disease starts in the hypothalamus, the region of the brain responsible for putting experiences into memory. When the hypothalamus is damaged, recent experiences never have a chance to become memories. Not until much later in the disease’s progression does it affect the regions in the brain in which older memories are stored, and so those memories are available even into later stages of the disease.”

So a good strategy for communicating with Alzheimer’s patients is to go back in time and bring out memories from the more distant past. This will make it more comfortable for your loved one and result in a more engaging conversation.

I read an article about a young woman, Jenny Rozbruch, who was troubled over the fact that her once vivacious grandmother was suffering from dementia and could hardly put sentences together. Rozbruch was convinced that the grandmother she knew was still there, somewhere. She felt so strongly about the issue that she was determined to find a way to communicate with her grandmother. The result: an iPad app called GreyMatters.

GreyMatters is an interactive life storybook, which uses photos, music and games to not only preserve memories, but also engage a loved one who’s suffering from dementia and may seem difficult to reach.

Similarly, there is a lot of discussion about reminiscence therapy with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. According to Jonathan Gerson, “one of the principles of reminiscence therapy is that there are pockets of memory that remain accessible.” Gerson has coined the DreamRem Method, which uses sensory stimulation as a therapeutic tool. Photos, videos, music, and anything that triggers the senses are used to create a “life portrait” for the senior. Caregivers use these sensory stimulations to bring out memories and help restore a sense of identity.

There aren’t cures for dementia, but apps like GreyMatters, techniques like DreamRem, and simply talking about your loved one’s distant past is a great strategy for communicating with Alzheimer’s patients and for keeping a loved one engaged and present for as long as possible.

“With my grandmother, I’d have these moments with her that were so unbelievable, where she would start talking about her life and have moments of clarity,” Rozbruch said of her time sharing early versions of GreyMatters with her grandmother. “There can be so many negative times with dementia and Alzheimer’s that one happy moment is just really exciting.”

Please contact me or anyone on the Select Home Care team at (626) 799-4855 for questions about caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s.