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Chats vital for dementia patients

AUTHOR and dementia career Angela Caughey says communication is important when looking after a loved one, but carers must remember to look after themselves.

Mrs Caughey spoke to residents, staff and medical professionals at Kiri Te Kanawa Retirement Village recently.

She showed the benefit of her own learnings gained from 12 years of looking after her late husband Brian who had Lewy body dementia (LBD).

LBD, also known as dementia with Lewy bodies, is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

She told her audience that her husband was quick to accept he had LBD.

“He suspected something was going on, insisted they see a specialist and was almost relieved to get the diagnosis, she said.

“He went and joined Alzheimer’s New Zealand.

“He said ‘Let’s tell all our friends because we’re in an age group where they’ll be getting it too and they can see how we cope.”

Mrs Caughey said it was important for careers to seek respite care.

She had used a support group and respite care.

”That’s the way to do it (caring). I couldn’t have done without it.”

She said carers were of equal importance. Their loved one must be accustomed to sometimes being without them.

“You could die first.”

Compassionate communication was a critical aspect of caring for someone with dementia, she said

Mrs Caughey’s new book, her second on dementia, is entitled How to Communicate with Someone Who Has Dementia: A Guide For Carers.

Her key messages included that laughter was important, avoid correcting what they say and “be with them as they are”.

The person with dementia should be respected.

Carers should keep questions to a minimum and use positive language.

Avoid correcting people with dementia and avoid using figures of speech.

Allow for pauses in conversation — “sometimes they just need a little time to get their brain into action”.

“Be aware of the person you are communicating with.

“Watch them: their body language, posture, facial expression, and especially their eyes.”

According to Mrs Caughey, dementia patients did not give carers a hard time.

“The dementia patient is having a bad time.”

She recited a mnemonic code (memory aid) for carers.:

L — laughter.

P — patience. “It’s so important”.

Q — avoid questions ‘like the plague”. “They find it difficult to process your words,” she said.

Avoid questions or ask questions that have a yes or no reply.

R — “Live in their reality. Go along with their reality. Don’t tell them they’re wrong.”

S — Stimulation, mental, social and physical. “Dancing is the best.’’

T — touch such as gentle stroking but some people do not like being touched by strangers.

U — You don’t know how long you will be in a caring role.

“Take care of yourself. You are of equal importance.”

KINDNESS AND COMMUNICATION: Author Angela Caughey (right) is supported by Debbie Lomas of the New Zealand Neurological Foundation at Kiri Te Kanawa Retirement Village. Mrs Caughey spoke to residents and staff about caring for dementia patients. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell