Learning how to redirect a person living with Alzheimer’s and how to embrace reality are essential components of effective caregiving. Learning how to do this takes patience and a little practice.

Redirecting dementia patients

Whenever possible you should include these two nonverbal communication techniques before redirecting. First, if close by take the person living with Alzheimer’s Hand. Second, make sure you have their attention and smile. Also, try to respond in a steady voice.

Here are a few examples of redirection for your consideration;

  1. I’m hungry, I’m starving

My mother would utter those words over and over every day. In the beginning I would inform her that she had just eaten (often true), that she could not possibly be hungry, or she had already eaten 3 times that day. What I failed to realize in the beginning was my mother: could not remember she had just eaten, could not remember what she had eaten that day, and that, in fact if she said she was hungry – she was hungry.

Whenever I chastised my mom and told her she couldn’t be hungry it usually ended in a horrible episode. My mom would go into her room and refuse to come out. I would be left alone feeling bad, and having a bad day.

Then one day I discovered the solution by accident. Dotty said, “I’m hungry, I’m starving.” I looked at her smiled and said, “okay, can you give me ten minutes to finish what I am doing and we will eat”. She smile back and said, ‘okay”. That was that. She didn’t ask again and seem satisfied with my answer. I had embraced her reality, and that was what she really needed. You might be able to use this form of redirection in any number of situations. Smile and embrace the reality. You might be able to get away with one word – okay.

  1. The distant and no longer past as reality.

My mother would tell me that she wanted to get Volkswagen (VW) fixed so she could start driving it. The VW in question had not been around for 30 years. It no longer existed. On top of that, my mother was no longer driving and had not driven in many years. I would smile and respond in a normal voice, “okay, let’s do it tomorrow”. Close enough to the 3 little words rule. My mother would accept this without question.

  1. Use the Hook

Sometime my mother would do or say something that was not really conducive to redirection. In these cases I learned to use the “hook”. I might say out of the clear blue sky, mom, why don’t we have some potato chips? This worked every time. My mother loved potato chips. I had other hooks. For example, would you like some ice cream? Answer every time, yes. And sometimes I would just change it up completely. Mom, let’s go to McDonald’s and get some French fries. I used this technique when my mother seemed to be getting – very negative. I wanted to get her of the house and into some bright light – or just plain out of the house for a change of mood and environment.

How to Use Ice Cream as a Memory Care Tool

I learned over time how to listen to my mom. Once I made it to Alzheimer’s World I learned how to accept that what she was saying was true – it was true to her. I no longer had an incessant need to correct her. Over time I learned how to keep it simple. It seems “simple” really works well in Alzheimer’s World. Touch, Smile, be Patient, don’t be Judgmental and somehow, someway, life starts improving.

How the Smile is the Most Powerful Communication of Them All in Dementia Care

As I write and think about this I continue to be amazed that if you try real hard – it doesn’t work well. If you keep it simple and easy – it does work well.1 It now seems to me that it should be easy to learn how to redirect, and how to embrace reality – it isn’t. But once you do, you can then look in the mirror and laugh at yourself. That is exactly what I did.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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