Alzheimer’s patients in Assisted Living or nursing home care often have difficulty communicating. This prevents caregivers, who do not know the history of the person, from seeing the person as anyone other than the incapacitated individual before them.
One way to help your loved one in this situation is to write a small paragraph with important information about him, and place it in a small picture frame. Make it easy to read, preferably typed. Set the frame in your parent’s room in a highly noticeable location, such as near the sink or on the bedside table. An example of what to say may look something like this: Harold worked for 40 years at Fort Howard Paper Mill in De Pere. He has been married to his wife Eleanor for 58 years. They have four children, six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. Harold served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He likes to fish, play golf, and build things with wood.” Even though your mom or dad may not remember these things anymore, this information helps the caregivers to see their patient as the person they are, and once were, and to bring up something of interest that your parent can respond to, even nonverbally.
Another way to encourage caregivers to look beyond the patient before them is to hang a collage of photographs in the room. Include youthful pictures of your parent. He (She) wasn’t always an elderly person. Continue with pictures of your parent interacting with family and friends, or even a family pet, at different stages of life. These photos help to say, “I had a life, a family, joys and sorrows, just like you.”
If there are holidays or special celebrations that your parent passed on to you, continue these traditions by decorating her room, bringing in a special treat, or hanging a banner on the door. Items that show ethnicity may bring a sudden realization from a caregiver, “Oh, we’re both Irish!”
If your parent didn’t eat a particular food during their life at home( for example, hated liver) be sure to let the cooks know at the facility. Your loved one may eat the liver now, but if he refuses it, there is a better chance for understanding on the part of the caregivers, and a chance to substitute something else for lunch that day.
Perhaps there is a poem your loved one wrote, a newspaper clipping about them, an award given for volunteer service. These all express a person’s identity and shed light on their personality. Emphasize a talent by bringing in a handmade birdhouse or crocheted doily. Attach a small tag that says, “Created by _______.”
Finally, visit often and get to know the staff. While you are there, you can drop hints about your parent’s favorite dessert, their musical preference, share a funny story from the past, or comment on a virtue or strength your parent demonstrated before becoming ill.
By taking the time to illuminate the people who care for your loved one, you honor the dignity of the individual person and encourage the chance for a true relationship to form between your parent and those she interacts with every day.