When her grandmother developed Alzheimer's disease, neuroscientist Lisa Genova decided to find out as much about the disease as she could. She wanted to help her family find ways to maintain a real emotional connection to her grandmother who no longer remembered who they were.
Genova is the author of the novel Still Alice, which was made into an Academy Award-winning film starring Julianne Moore.
Genova says that you have adapt in order to stay connected. One approach is to join the person with Alzheimer's in their reality. Resist the urge to correct factual errors and use the classic improv technique: "yes, and…" instead.
If a person tells you they are waiting for their mother and you know their mother died fifty years ago, telling them the truth will make them experience the grief and loss again. Instead, Genova suggests saying, "Yes, and I'll wait with you. I hear your mother is a great cook." This can start a conversation and help forge a meaningful connection with someone whose short term memory is affected by Alzheimer's.
The approach worked with Genova's grandmother: "She had no idea who we were and yet she trusted us because we loved her and you can feel that."
For those who may be skeptical that a satisfying relationship can be built without memory, language, or cognition, Genova points to the connections we make with babies. "If you have a six-month-old, this child only has six months worth of memory available to him or her and no language yet, and yet can you tell if that six-month-old feels loved? Absolutely."