Marriage and family therapists face various roadblocks in their professional concentrations. When working with people with Alzheimer's Disease, as well as their caregivers, family therapists have to create an ongoing and wavering form of communication. Our skills regarding listening, acting, reacting, and verbal and non-verbal communication, test our capabilities and patience.
Communication is about understanding the emotional intentions behind relayed information. Therefore, often the memory impaired individual, whose complex emotions don't align with his or her responses, makes it appear impossible to interact.
Family therapists who specialize in this work are aware that the earlier stages of the disease present quite differently than the later and final stages. Initially, activities of daily functioning and executive functioning appear in line with your observations.
As the disease progresses, family therapists find themselves learning a new form of communication. In addition, we must include their caregivers' concerns. Non-verbal communication such as, smiles, attitudes, tones, and touch will strengthen verbal communication where and when applicable. Relaying our observations to caregivers, and how family therapists apply dialogue with the care-recipient, gives the caregiver tools and support.
Over the years my personal and professional interactions with the Alzheimer's population have helped me learn how to speak, when to speak, and not to take things said or done personally, however difficult this may be.
Sheryl Stern is a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice, and an Adjunct Professor at Hofstra University in New York. She specializes in working with clients and families facing the difficulties of communication with the Alzheimer's Disease population. She can be reached at 516-662-3362, and is the author of AAMFT's therapy topic on Alzheimer's Disease.