Office of the DeKalb County District Attorney

Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit

Sherry Boston, District Attorney

Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease

What is Dementia?
Dementia is a medical condition that affects the way the brain works. Sometimes incorrectly referred to as senility, it involves a gradual deterioration of cognition (thinking, information, processing, decision-making abilities, as well as memory). It also affects behavior to a point that interferes with customary daily living activities. Dementia can affect all aspects of mind and behavior, including memory, judgment, language, concentration, visual perception, temperament, and social interactions.

Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a normal outcome of aging, but is caused by diseases that affect the brain. One of these diseases is Alzheimer’s disease.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating condition that eventually erodes all cognitive and functional abilities, leading to total dependence on caregivers and eventually to death. It affects about four million Americans and prevalence of the disease increases dramatically with age. About 5% of all cases have been associated with a genetic tendency. The majority of cases affect the population on a random basis. Scientists are still researching possible risk factors that cause the disease, as well as treatment.

Communicating With People Who Have Dementia
It is important for caregivers to be conscious of their verbal and nonverbal actions when communicating with people who have dementia. What caregivers say and do can have a positive influence on the client. Through skillful communication, care giving, and management of the person’s environment, caregivers can enhance the lives of people who have dementia (he/she pronouns are used interchangeably).
  • Try to be aware of everything a client may be doing. If he doesn’t appear to be listening or receptive, leave the patient alone. Tell him that you understand he doesn’t want to talk.
  • Be sensitive to a client’s nonverbal communication. Be aware of your nonverbal messages. Adopt positive, pleasant nonverbal behaviors to be reassuring and encouraging.
  • Try to avoid situations that are known triggers to resistant behavior.
  • Give patient as much control as possible.
  • Explain what you are doing (repeat if necessary). If resistant behavior continues or worsens, stop.
  • Make the client feel like you are there for him. Look directly at him and show you are giving him your undivided attention.
  • If the client is able to converse, avoid ambiguous questions and ask yes or no questions if possible.
  • Speak slowly with a calm, reassuring tone of voice. Use single words and simple sentences.
  • Avoid distracting background noises.
  • Give the victim time to respond. Repeat question or instructions if there is no response in a couple of minutes.
  • Be consistent. Use the same word for the same thing.
  • Provide affectionate encouragement. Use diversion and humor to overcome resistance.
  • Match your verbal communication to the client’s ability.
  • If a client is talking to you but not making sense, search for important clue words and repeat them back to show that you are connected with him.
  • Break down tasks into individual steps to be done one at a time.
  • Don’t pretend to understand confused speech.
  • Don’t force the client to do anything.
  • Don’t attempt to force the person to be oriented to present-day reality.
  • If the person is time-traveling (appears to be re-living the past) demonstrate empathy with what the person is feeling about the past. Help the person review his or her life if he or she is able to reminisce.