Emotional Health in Alzheimer’s Patients

News Note

By Lara Evans Bracciante

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, April/May 2005.

Rather than trying to challenge an Alzheimer’s patient’s delusions, caregivers should empathize and connect emotionally, according to Joanne Koenig Coste, author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s (Houghton Mifflin, 2003). This is especially relevant because patients have strong emotional memories, even after they’ve lost the ability to remember current events.

Following are some tips for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, as reported in a recent issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

Enter their world. Rather than challenging delusions, acknowledge the underlying emotion and redirect their thinking. If a patient is talking about her childhood home as if she still lived there, rather than reminding her of her current residence, consider saying, “The house sounds lovely. Tell me more about it.”

Protect their self-esteem. While it’s obviously important to find a balance between the patient’s safety and independence, don’t go overboard on doing everything for them, which can lead to frustration and anger.

Take a leadership role. As a patient’s condition deteriorates, it’s critical that someone, typically the patient’s offspring, takes charge while minimizing their disabilities and maximizing their strengths.

Get organized. Experts note that difficulties surrounding tasks, such as eating and bathing, may really be the result of waiting for the caregiver to get organized, as patients suffer from short attention span.

Avoid overstimulation. Many patients with Alzheimer’s are ultra sensitive to sound, especially several sounds at once.

Keep the person physically active. People in early stages of the disease report that vigorous exercise sharpens their mind and calms them.

Sing a song. Alzheimer’s patients typically enjoy music, even in later stages of the disease. Patients often become more communicative and less aggressive when caregivers sing to them. Background music also appears to help.