Aging Well: A Dignified Life book suggests different way to relate to Alzheimer's patients
Nearly 30,000 seniors in our state suffer from Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association of Hawaii. An estimated 65,000 more people are caregivers for them. It's a draining responsibility, but a Alzheimer's expert says if you change the way you look at that role, it could make the job easier.
When David Troxel's mother developed Alzheimer's Disease, he underwent the difficult journey of watching her fade away. "I always tried very hard to not talk about her as though if she wasn't there. Throughout this journey and towards the end of life, I think there was still a person there beneath this cloak of dementia," Troxel reflects.
His mother died in 2009. Troxel put his experience into a book called A Dignified Life: The best friends approach to Alzheimer's Care. "This whole philosophy is about how you can help give a person with Alzheimer's a better life. You be a best friend to them. You use empathy, and humor and affection," he summarizes.
He and his coauthor Virginia Bell developed "The Best Friends Approach," which they detail in their book. In short, he urges you to relate to them like they were your best friend. "Friends will text each other. Friends will talk. Friends will have conversation," he lists.
But this will be a different kind of conversation. "Smile, use body language, handshakes, giving lots of compliments verbally, I think is powerful," he details.
Have empathy, he says, for what memory loss might feel like. Troxel likes it to "being a tourist in a foreign country where you don't know the customs, traditions, and language," sharing a stressful anecdote about being lost in Japan, running late for a meeting, and joking that he was about to have a nervous breakdown.
Troxel's point is, when someone with Alzheimer's can't speak well or remember things, you can stay patient. Troxel advises, "When mom says, 'That president Eisenhower is doing a great job!' You say, 'Mom, I like Ike, too,' and just kind of roll with it."
Ultimately, it's about treating your loved one with respect. Troxel concludes, "When you surround this person who has Alzheimer's or one of the other dementias with this caring approach, it can reduce the challenging behaviors, and foster cooperation and success."
Troxel says the Best Friends Approach can help create loving memories for both you and your loved one. More on the book at https://bestfriendsapproach.com/.