Ask The Expert
My husband has had Alzheimer’s for about 6 years now and his memory has gotten much worse. We have younger grandchildren and when they come to visit, he is having a hard time connecting with them. It is very sad for me to see him struggling because he has always enjoyed them so much. Do you have any suggestions?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. Over time, it becomes more difficult for a person to engage in activities and conversations as they did in the past. Communication skills change, and short-term memory is often greatly inhibited. There are several things that might contribute to the changes you are seeing and a few things you can do to ensure the best visits possible.
You can start by giving your husband the best opportunity for success. Create a space for the visit and ensure that all background noise or distractions are kept to a minimum. Hearing the grandchildren may be a challenge to communicating with them, so ensure that his hearing is routinely checked and that any device he may have is properly worn, and batteries changed prior to visit. It will also help to ensure proper lighting. If he wears glasses, ensure he has them on, and they are clean.
Because his short-term memory is impaired, minimize the risk of him forgetting the names by having everyone wear a name tag. You can also create a picture book for him that shows each family member and has a name labeled beneath the photo. This is something you can show him prior to the visit or that they can look at together and reminisce.
It would also be helpful to have a planned activity. It can be something simple your husband and grandchildren do together but will help them interact and connect with each other. You will have to watch for cues that the activity is appropriate for him and not create frustration if it is too difficult.
Here are some things you could try:
· Decorating cookies/cupcakes
· Simple games such as checkers, tic-tac-toe or cards
· Color, draw or paint on a blank canvas
· Make ice cream sundaes
· Use pictures from old magazines to make a fun collage
· Use different shapes of pasta or large beads from a craft store and practice sorting items by shape or color or stringing them on a cord
· Plant a small container garden for the window
· Do a large piece puzzle together
· Look at a picture book of something he likes: trains, cars, planes, food etc.
· Play music he enjoys and have a dance party
Depending on the ages of the grandkids, it is also helpful to talk to them about Alzheimer’s and some of the things their grandfather is experiencing. This will help them to be patient with him, slow things down a bit and give him an opportunity to respond. There are several great books available for kids. Some of my favorites are: Weeds in Nana’s Garden, Still my Grandpa, Memory Box, What’s happening to Grandpa, Always my Grandpa, A Heart full of GEMS and The Gift of Goodbye.
Keep the lines of communication open and allow the grandkids to ask questions and talk about their feelings. Watch for cues from your husband and shorten the length of the visit if necessary. Just remember, some days will be better than others, so try to cherish the good ones and when things don’t go as planned, try again tomorrow.
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