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By Liza Horvath


Compassion Should Be Used When Dementia Is Present


According to the Alzheimer’s Association every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. Most people affected by the disease are seniors but nearly 200,000 individuals younger than age 65 currently suffer from early on-set Alzheimer’s. Because the disease is so prevalent – one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia – it is important that we learn the early signs of the illness and, if symptoms are present, get tested.


One early warning sign of Alzheimer’s is memory loss – especially forgetting recently learned information. This can be tricky because forgetting names or appointments and remembering them later is a normal age-related change, but more extreme memory loss is not. A client who lived to be 98 without any noticeable cognitive decline once put it this way, “If I have to go back to the other room because I forgot my pencil, that’s normal. If I get to my pencil and don’t know how to use it, that’s a problem.”    


Working with numbers or following a plan can also be a sign. Those suffering with dementia will sit at their desks sifting through mail or stacks of papers. They are aware they should do something – pay bills perhaps – but they are just not sure how to go about it. Other indicators include confusion with time and place, trouble understanding visual images, spatial relationships and new problems with words when speaking or writing. A complete list of early warning signs can be found at www.alz.org. The Alzheimer’s Association also has a 24/7 helpline at 1-800-272-3900.


For adult children of seniors who suffer with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it is important to educate ourselves about dementia and by what means we can compassionately communicate with those who suffer from memory loss. It is vital to recognize that when someone experiences a loss of this magnitude – their memory – they become fearful and often lose their capacity to reason. Recognizing this and developing certain communication techniques can result in less stress on the caregiver and a better quality of life for the Alzheimer’s victim.


Liz Ayres, an Alzheimer’s Support Group Leader, says “Don’t argue, reason or confront. Don’t question them about recent events and, most importantly, don’t take anything personally.” Ayres says that when interacting with a memory impaired patient, you should give short, one sentence answers and be patient in waiting for them to reply. “Overall,” Ayers says, “you can’t control their memory loss, only your reaction to it.”


Oftentimes, a memory-impaired senior who has lost a spouse will not remember the death. One daughter of such a senior found that each time she reminded her mother that her spouse had died, the mother experienced the death as if it were new and the grief was tortuous for both the mom and her daughter. Finally, when asked, the daughter would reply, “He’s at the store, Mom, he’ll be back later.” It may have been untruthful – but it was kind.


Compassion is defined as a feeling of deep sympathy for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Until we find a cure, many adult children will be obligated to know the disease – we would do well to learn how to provide compassionate support.

Liza Horvath has over 30 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a questions call (831)646-5262 or email liza@montereytrust.com










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