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What's in a Name? A Key to Dementia Communication

Ellen Belk - February 17, 2016 11:15 AM

Providing care for someone with an Alzheimer’s or a related Dementia diagnosis takes substantial effort and a skill-set that is highlighted by the ability to communicate effectively.

“Good Morning Mary” I smile as I extend my hand. Mary gingerly accepts it with a quizzical look on her face. “Do you know me?” she asks.

“I sure do, you are my friend.”

Mary sighs and squeezes my hand. “Yes I am” she smiles back. “Yes, I am your friend.”

Mary has Alzheimer’s disease.

Consider this, what does it feel like when you hear someone speak your name? Hearing your name is powerful. It’s a connection. It feels familiar. When someone refers to you by name, are you more apt to respond positively? It feels good to be acknowledged, does it not?

Individuals with Alzheimer’s and other related Dementias struggle to grasp on to their fading memories. Old and new information becomes jumbled and confusing while portions of the brain begin to shrink. Often, this cognitive decline is described like this; last-in-is-first-out.

Meaning, the last information that was learned and captured in the brain, tends to be the first thing to disappear. It is why short-term memory becomes fractured after diagnosis. New memories aren’t retained yet recollections from decades earlier remain crystal clear. Eventually, even the old information and memories will become cloudy.

However, recognizing your name seems to stay intact until the very end. Think about it, when a child is born, a name is given. And, immediately everyone in that child’s world begins to use that name while cuddling, coddling and snuggling with the newborn. The name is used and reinforced as the child grows. Knowing your name and responding to it, is an instinct.

Remember the television sitcom Cheers? Their catchy opening song summed it up; ‘Sometimes you wanna go, where everybody knows your name…..’

Why? Because it feels good to be surrounded by people who know you. People who know your name.

Find ways to use a person’s name. While providing care, call them by name. Speak gently and soothingly. Get their attention by using their name. Make them feel comfortable by using their name. Extend your hand in greeting, while speaking their name.

What’s in a name? A familiar comfort, that’s for sure. Use it often – it’s a fabulous care giving communication technique that feels good to the receiver.

Ellen Belk, CDP is President of Keep In Mind Inc.® specializing in holistic Dementia care solutions and caregiving resources.  With over 15 years of professional Dementia care leadership; Ellen is known for her operational expertise, executive leadership development, creative activity initiatives and caregiver training. She authored the 360° Dementia Care Operational Manual™ for professional Dementia care partners who seek a comprehensive operational tool that exceeds industry expectations.

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