People with Alzheimer's disease often experience difficulties communicating, which may cause them to lose confidence or withdraw from social situations. Yet staying in touch with family and friends can be a good way to combat isolation and help them express how they are feeling, as well as relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Here are seven ways to be a good friend to someone with Alzheimer's...
See also: Five medical issues that can be mistaken for dementia
1. Remind them gently
Take cues from the person and if they look confused, introduce yourself and your relationship. Don't try to force a memory. For example, you might say: "Hi, I'm your friend Monica." Not: "Don't you remember me? It's Monica!"
2. Watch your body language
If the person finds verbal communication difficult, try speaking slightly more slowly and using simple words and sentences. At the same time, be aware of your tone of voice and avoid sudden movements and tense facial expressions, as these may cause upset or distress.
3. Include them in conversations
When it comes to including someone with dementia in the conversation, The Alzheimer's Society advises not to speak on the person's behalf or complete sentences for them. Instead, allow them plenty of time to join the conversation and try to work out the meaning they are trying to convey. The message may be about feelings, not just facts. You should also avoid asking too many direct questions, as this can become confusing.
4. What to say if they ask for someone who's died
If a person with Alzheimer's asks for someone who has died, it may traumatise them to tell them the truth. It's more comforting to say: "Your husband isn't here right now."
5. Visit earlier in the day
If you're coming for a visit, try arriving earlier in the day. Many people with Alzheimer's experience "sundowning," where symptoms become stronger later in the day.
6. Enjoy the here and now
Encouraging those with dementia to continue with activities – particularly ones linked to hobbies or interests they enjoyed before their diagnosis – can help them to maintain their skills and independence for longer.
Read to them, go for a walk or listen to music together. Studies show that music can improve someone's mood, behaviour and wellbeing, while musical memory is often retained when other memories are lost. As well as listening to music, you could try encouraging them to sing along or dance and move to the rhythm.
7. Include them in everyday activities
A person with Alzheimer's may need more assistance to complete everyday tasks, but try to include them. Some of the most beneficial activities can be simple, everyday things such as setting the table for a meal or folding clothes, as they can help a person with dementia feel connected to normal life.
The Alzheimer's Society advises: "It is important that, where possible, families, friends and carers support the person to do things for themselves rather than 'taking over'. This increases the person's wellbeing and helps maintain their dignity, confidence and self-esteem, rather than making them feel helpless or worthless."