The Caregiver’s Translator

christine williams

One FAU researcher says spousal communication is central to managing Alzheimer’s

Dr. Christine Williams of FAU’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing has an unconventional approach to helping patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia: She treats their relationships with their spousal caregivers.

Inspired by her own parents’ struggle after her mother developed dementia, she believed that she could improve communication in the caregiver/spouse relationships. Her intervention is called “CARE: Communicating About Relationships and Emotions,” and she works with couples for 10 weeks and records their conversations for analysis. Having found more improvement than she ever imagined possible, Williams shares some of the techniques she recommends to improve communication in dementia caregivers’ marriages.

EXPECTANT WAITING

“You don’t have to drown the person out with your one-sided conversation. Silences are good. Allowing a silence with someone with dementia is really important to give them a chance to have a thought. There will be delayed processing. If you say something, they’re still thinking about it when you want to go on to the next thing.”

CONNECT

“Communicating is more than talking or exchanging information. There’s something going on nonverbally, especially between a couple. Many people with dementia were very affectionate, they wanted to hold hands or kiss… Continue to have hope, and continue to engage with that person.”

SEARCH FOR WAYS TO COMMUNICATE

“One of the couples communicated by singing. She had a hard time expressing herself, but when he would start with one of the popular songs—and they were good, they could both sing—immediately her face lit up, and she knew all the words. People can remember music even when they’re having difficulty with speech. [It’s a] different part of the brain.”

ACCEPT THEIR STORY

“Give this person the respect of not challenging their story, because it’s more important for their self-esteem and for the relationship than getting it right. … We all want to be right. It doesn’t matter most of the time.”

SHARE MEMORIES

“Rather than ask ‘do you remember?,’ just share the memory. Offer it like a gift. Tell the story with no expectations, and the other person may get involved in the conversation, and that may jog their memory.”

DELIGHT IN UNEXPECTED RESPONSES

“There will be unexpected breakthroughs. Most people talk about that. … So treasure those moments and appreciate them as a gift.”

This story is from the March 2020 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.