Les Patterson’s Monday Morning Boost: “He didn’t tell me he was killed”

  • “Where have you been?” Dad asked with a quivering voice and tear-filled eyes.


    It had been nearly two weeks since I last saw Dad and I was already worried he may not remember me. Elisa and I made a quick overnight trip to Richfield to see Dad and spent Saturday morning with him.


    “We’ve been at our home in Hyde Park,” I answered, hoping to give him a sense of place. Dad continued to look straight at me, his dark eyes piercing deep into mine. I felt, momentarily, that he may have been seeking for recognition. But his next words quickly confirmed he knew who I was.


    “Your boy’s in serious trouble,” he said as he playfully but intently smacked his closed fist into his open palm.


    “Which son, Dad?”


    “Brenin,” he said as his eyes filled with tears again.


    “Why is Brenin in trouble?”


    “Because he didn’t tell me he was killed.”


    My heart sank as I realized the source of his tears and anxiety. This was the second time I’m aware of where Dad’s mind had convinced him someone he was close with had been killed. Later during our visit Saturday he added a third to the list. Remarkably, Dad thought each person had been killed, versus simply dying, the first in an accident while the others he wasn’t sure about. I’m not sure if that means anything, but it is an interesting observation.


    I did my best to assure Dad that Brenin and the others were each alive and safe, his piercing eyes again searching for answers his brain was struggling to process.


    Communicating with one suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s is challenging. Their sense of place and time is often out of sync, their memory faulty, and their grasp of reality slipping. The national Alzheimer’s Association offers the following suggestions to help with the communication process.



    • Be patient and supportive.
      Let the person know you’re listening and trying to understand. Show the person that you care about what he or she is saying and be careful not to interrupt. 
    • Offer comfort and reassurance.
      If he or she is having trouble communicating, let the person know that it’s okay. Encourage the person to continue to explain his or her thoughts.
    • Avoid criticizing or correcting.
      Don’t tell the person what he or she is saying is incorrect. Instead, listen and try to find the meaning in what is being said. Repeat what was said if it helps to clarify the thought.
    • Avoid arguing.
      If the person says something you don’t agree with, let it be. Arguing usually only makes things worse — often heightening the level of agitation for the person with dementia.
    • Offer a guess.
      If the person uses the wrong word or cannot find a word, try guessing the right one. If you understand what the person means, you may not need to give the correct word. Be careful not to cause unnecessary frustration.
    • Encourage unspoken communication.
      If you don’t understand what is being said, ask the person to point or gesture.
    • Limit distractions.
      Find a place that’s quiet. The surroundings should support the person’s ability to focus on his or her thoughts.
    • Focus on feelings, not facts.
      Sometimes the emotions being expressed are more important than what is being said. Look for the feelings behind the words. At times, tone of voice and other actions may provide clues.

    Communicating with a person with dementia is challenging, but as I’ve shared before it can also be rich and joyful. Dad’s memory retreat to his early years on the farm has been especially insightful. His eyes look at me with a searching intensity I longed to see growing up. He’s asked me to help him, sometimes while withering in pain, other times humble with gratitude. I touch his face with a gentle hand and kiss his cheek hoping his soul feels my love even if his brain may not. 

    Read more at http://www.alz.org/care/dementia-communication-tips.asp


    Have a great Monday! Thanks for letting me share.


    Les Patterson


    p.s. Take 15 minutes today to see how these communication tips may help with other communication situations.


    Les Patterson loves to share stories and the “Monday Morning Boost” is his way of sharing a story or two with family, friends, and clients. Les believes every person, business and organization has a story worth sharing. Since 1997 he has enjoyed finding compelling ways to share those stories through writing and producing radio commercials at the Cache Valley Media Group. Discover how he can help tell your story at www.CacheValleyMediaGroup.com. Feedback and comments are welcome at les@cvradio.com. ©2015, Les Patterson.  All Rights Reserved.

  • Rod Schwartz
    Rod Schwartz Les, have you seen "Alive Inside?" (Netflix has it.)  Great documentary on the power of music to help Alzheimer's patients and folks suffering from dementia.  Been working in this area as a hospital volunteer and have seen first-hand how music can get through to these people like nothing else can.  Good post!
    February 9, 2015
  • Les Patterson
    Les Patterson Thanks for the suggestions Rod. I have not see this, but the idea is very intriguing. I'll have to do some research. Thanks again.
    February 13, 2015