Watching Alzheimer's steal a loved one's memory is painful. Communication becomes a challenge that can leave everyone unhappy. Experts said there are strategies that can help.
Bill Keating's wife Diane was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years ago, though she was showing symptoms at least a year before that. She's now at a memory care facility.
Bill visits her every day, but their conversations aren't like they once were.
He explained, "We watch the squirrels run around and eat the corn that I bring, and the conversation is like 'well that's a nice breeze', 'oh those azaleas are still looking pretty good', 'oh yeah, those are nice'....it's all real gentle."
Bill has spent a good amount of time learning about Alzheimer's and dementia. He's made peace with the parts of his wife that have disappeared. He said he never asks her questions, and continued, "There's no original thought. She will not come up with an idea on her own. And you never ask questions, because they don't remember."
June Pouliot is a social worker with Covenant Alzheimer's Care. She often works in partnership with the Memory Disorder Clinic at West Florida Healthcare. People who deal with the conditions every day know Alzheimer's and dementia can change someone you love into someone you barely know. Pouliot said patience is key, even when you think you have used yours up.
She said, "I remind myself for that person that's asked me, it's the first time. They don't remember that they've asked me that same question 20 times, so it's up to me as the person that knows that, to respond to them with the same amount of respect and kindness the 20th time, that I did the first."
When people are tempted to talk about a dementia patient as if they're not in the room, she asks them to imagine how they'd want to be treated.
Pouliot said, "You may not always respond perfectly to everything that happens, but if you love them, they will know that."
It's a philosophy Bill has embraced with his wife.
He said, "We'll sit out there and listen to music, and she'll reach over and scratch my back, and that's nice, so there's a little bit there."
The Memory Disorder Clinic at West Florida Hospital does comprehensive evaluations for people concerned about Alzheimer's disease, as well as providing families with resources they need. Bill Keating also recommends a Facebook group called Memory People.