Archive for October 2013

The Most Powerful Tool You Can Use in Caring for a Loved One Living with Alzheimer’s

Dementia of any kind, including Alzheimer’s disease, can be very frustrating for families or professionals who are trying to provide care.

Early in the disease, people living with dementia might have difficulty finding the word they mean to use, or forget names of close friends and dates of important events.

As the disease progresses, it may become even more difficult to express feelings or make needs known to others.  People who have trouble expressing themselves become frustrated and even angry.

It’s easy to make two mistakes when this happens:

First, we might assume that the use of the wrong name or incorrect date means that the person has forgotten their loved one or the event.  In reality, they may know who and what they’re trying to discuss, but the correct word doesn’t come to them.

We’ve all had this happen, haven’t we?

Second, we may see angry behavior as coming from the disease, as opposed to a very natural frustration at not being understood.


Dr. Al Power’s book, “Dementia Beyond Drugs: Changing the Culture of Care,” talks about several different kinds of communication problems that can accompany dementia, and challenges us to change how we look at and deal with them.

You’ll want to take a look at his book, which focuses on care in residential settings such as nursing homes, as the principles apply to Elders who live anywhere.


Naomi Feil, a social worker who created “Validation Therapy,” teaches us to acknowledge the feeling that’s being expressed, rather than to take on the logic (or apparent illogic), of what the person who lives with dementia is saying to us.

This approach works well for routine communication as well as for those situations where someone appears to be delusional.

For example, when Mary says she wants to see her Mother, who has been dead for a long time, it does no good, and may do harm, to remind Mary that her mother has been dead for many years.

A more helpful approach is to acknowledge the feeling that is being expressed. 

If the person seems sad, you can say, “it sounds like you’re missing your Mom.  Could you tell me a little more about her?”

This approach honors the person and helps them feel heard and understood.  The invitation to talk more about the mother can lead to wonderful stories, and help the Elder feel less alone.

You can learn about Naomi Feil’s approach at her website; just click HERE.

An easy book to get you started with this technique is “Talking to Alzheimer’s: A Simple Way to Connect When You Visit with a Family Member or Friend,” by Claudia Strauss.  It’s a small book written for everyone, with easy to understand examples of what to say, and what not to say.


Truly hearing an Elder who lives with dementia is a powerful way to honor them and help them connect with you and ensure that all their needs, physical and emotional, can be met.


Please be aware that if you purchase books from the above links, a small percentage of the cost will go to support this website.


Be sure to leave your name and e-mail in the box at the top left of this page, so we can make sure you receive new blogs and updates about resources!  You will also receive my free report on “The Art & Science of Elder Care: 12 Tips to Help you Transform Your Caregiving.”


Lisa Kendall is a clinical social worker and clinical gerontologist in private practice.  She teaches for the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute and is an Educator for The Eden Alternative.  Lisa speaks on Aging and Elder Care issues around the country. 

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