What do you say when your loved one with dementia asks hard questions like, “Where is my husband?” or “Can I drive?"

In our webinar, Angelia Brigance—dementia author, speaker, and Executive Director at Arbor Terrace of Burnt Hickory—will teach us how to properly and compassionately respond in almost any situation.

Watch the video above for a preview of Senior Living LIVE! Answering the Hard Questions for Your Loved One with Dementia, and then visit ArborCompany.com/Questions to register!


Video Transcript

- Hello everyone and welcome into "Senior Living Live." My name is Melissa. As always, we thank you so much for joining us via podcast or watching via video here today. Well, we are going to preview our upcoming webinar called Answering the Hard Questions for Your Loved One with Dementia. Now this of course comes off the heels of our recent dementia live webinar where many of you asked questions on how to properly respond to the questions asked by your loved ones with dementia. This webinar is dedicated to that and of course, much, much more. Angela Brigance will be our guest presenter and we are so proud to say that this accomplished woman is a part of the Arbor team. Angela, how are you today?

- I am wonderful today. It's a lovely day here in Georgia.

- Yes, it is. I am also in Georgia as well. And it is, it is gorgeous on this February, month of February, just prior to spring. Now, Angela, please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do for the Arbor Company.

- So at the Arbor Company, I'm an executive director in our Marietta Community, Burnt Hickory. I've been in the industry almost 30 years and I've worked in assisted living long term care rehabs, home care, you name it pretty much, I've done it but I keep coming back to the assisted living world.

- Yeah, and as an aside to the assisted living can you tell us about your experience with dementia?

- Sure, I have been fortunate enough to travel a little bit around the world doing international speaking on dementia. And I wrote a book on dementia. So it's been a part of my life, always. My grandmother and grandfather moved in when I was two into my home, and my grandfather had dementia. So, I went through that life with him in our home and then through communities, and coming into this world and it's always been a part of what I've done.

- Yeah, and so you're kind of one of the perfect people if you will, to have this discussion about this topic because you've seen the evolution of as we find out more and more about this disease and how we can help others you just added that from your base knowledge and your foundation from being so young to now. And so we're thrilled to have you here today and as a part of our webinar where we will have our guest viewers get to ask you questions, and they certainly will I promise you that. Now, it is clear through our interactions with our viewers family members, people like yourself and Susan Robbins who we had the most recent dementia webinar with that we all want what is best for our loved ones or anyone suffering from dementia. But many of us don't have the right tools, Angela to do this. So what is your approach?

- My approach when I'm working with someone with dementia is first of all is to focus and just be there. I think in this world with such fast paced and there's so many things coming at us and we've got phones ringing and telephones and everything that is drawing our attention is to slow down, take a deep breath and just be there with them making sure that we're talking simply in that we're not adding too many things into a sentence keep it simple and stay really focused.

- Yeah, and we've had webinars in past with people who have been diagnosed with dementia and it's amazing to see the varying levels that people are currently functioning on a day to day. Some people you say "Oh I could just go have tea with that individual. And It would be no problem. I wouldn't even know that they had dementia." And you have people who are a little bit further along and advanced. So as we discuss this is there anything a loved one can do to prepare for that time with a loved one with dementia or questions that they can bring and prepare in terms of a conversation that can kind of help that person feel a little bit more in tune to the individual that's visiting them?

- Sure, I think the first thing that we all have to remember is that someone with dementia is doing the best they can that day with wherever they're at. And no two days are the same. I often will hear people say "My mother did that on purpose." And I'm like, "If your mother could do that on purpose you probably wouldn't have dementia." That ability to do that on purpose is pretty much gone. So they're doing the best they can that day and no two days will be the same. So when you come in with that thought that wherever they're at today is their best you give grace for however they are that day. Come in with ideas of maybe some pictures, stories and be with them wherever they're at that day. I love to look at, with my own mom who has dementia. So I am, not only have been in this field for a long time and grew up in this industry but my own mom has dementia right now and living at a community. So I am as much a child of someone with dementia as I am the expert for my community and for those who I speak with. I love to show her certain pictures and then let her tell me stories about whatever it is. And whatever she tells me is okay. It's her truth at that moment and I'm just gonna have fun with it. And I'm gonna just continue whatever story she's going with.

- Yeah, and a lot of the questions that pop up during these webinars are if something comes up and then we have a conversation and then the loved one may discuss their deceased spouse. And they don't realize that they're deceased at that moment. And so Susan made a good point of redirecting. Can you talk about sort of the art of redirecting as you're having conversations with somebody with dementia?

- Well, one of my beliefs is is that when someone brings up someone that's passed away like a spouse it's usually a time where an emotion or a memory is floating to the top. And they don't know what to do with it. You know, where is that person? If I were having tea with my son my husband would always be with me why isn't he here now? So the first thing that I like to do is use a few words like "Tell me about your husband." Tell me about 'em because in telling that story about them they can release some of that anxiety of where is he. And as they're telling the story you could walk away from that initial fear. Tell me the story. "Oh, my husband, he was a great gardener. "And he loves to garden. He grows the best tomatoes." Tell me, what did you do with the tomatoes? Tell me about those tomatoes. "Oh, we would use them to make marinara sauce." "Really? Marinara sauce." And you kinda walk away from the initial but allow them to share whatever memories and emotions are coming up. Because they need to get rid of that in order to move on past that anxiety.

- Sure--

- Great new stories.

- Yeah. And that could be a conversation you end up having every single time you visit that person but every single time, it's new for that individual. And so, I think that this is such an important webinar. It's an important conversation because let's face it some of that takes a little finesse and not all of us are gifted with that kind of finesse. We have to learn how to do it. And so that's why we're here. We're here to educate. And I just, I love it so much and I'm excited for those individuals who are maybe just entering this for the first time and don't know what to do watching this can certainly help them. So as we discuss these conversations, whether it's a spouse or whether it's the weather or what to eat when it comes to the webinars obviously we're here for the reasons so that people can ask you questions. And so for today, give us a few examples of maybe questions you anticipate that you'll get in your webinar that can help people have those conversations and what those conversations are that you hear about day to day so that someone can help their loved one with dementia.

- I think the questions that I get most often when I speak are questions about you know, my mom asked me about the house or about the spouse. Those are the ones. And as children, we never lie to our parents. We would be in horrible trouble if we lied to our parents. And that habit of wanting to tell our parents the truth is ingrained in us. And yet this is a time that you can't really tell them your spouse has passed away because they're gonna grieve. But I also don't believe that we lie to them. So that's why I teach and that practice you have to get into is how do you answer that question and still say truth but not go into reality? It's a most difficult piece takes a lot of practice, but once you learn it you can answer almost any question that someone brings up and feel like you've helped them along their path. That is usually the question I get the most is what do I say when? Mom wants to drive the car. Where's the car? Where's my house? Where's my husband? And then all the questions of I've already done that. I've already had my shower. How do you answer those questions? How do you get them to engage in activities of bathing or dressing or grooming that they would never want their children to see them undressed? Or, "What do you mean, I need to wash my hair?" My own mother will say "My hair's fine, I don't need to wash it." I'm like "Mom, I think it's time." And we have to go through these conversations of how do you move that along? And then I need to get mom to the doctors and I get there and she's not ready. And she digs in her heels. How do I handle that situation? Those are the pieces that I get quite often. They're very practical because it's something that people are dealing with on a daily basis.

- Absolutely. And they are questions that we hear all the time. And so I am so excited that you have this sort of formula that like you said can be used in almost any situation. I think it's gonna be so helpful for our viewers. I'm actually really excited for this webinar because you're gonna help so many people out. And it is really heartbreaking. We have these webinars and we have people who you can just you can feel it and you can see it in the writing that they just want help. They want some way to be able to make those interactions with their loved one a little bit more loving and a little bit less frustrating for both sides. And gosh, you're gonna be such a great help for so many people. So finally, I don't wanna leave the conversation without first discussing your book. So tell us a little bit about this book you wrote.

- So the book is called "Finding Rose." It's named after my mom who has dementia. And it's a story that I hear most often through the 30, 29, 30 years I've been in this industry is that, a couple are together, they're doing great one spouse dies, and then the family discovers that the other spouse left behind has had dementia this whole time. And it's been hidden because a couples together make one great human being. But when one is taken out of the equation the other is left and you recognize that there's been holes that have always been there. So the story is all about a family, a nurse who finds out that her mom has dementia. And, it's their story of learning how to communicate and stay engaged. It is the lessons that I've taught when I speak around the world and speak all over the United States or consult with families and say, "How do I stay engaged? How do I communicate? What do I say?" Mom said, mom accused me of stealing her necklace. And why is she doing that? I would never do that. Or why is mom calling my brother and never me? My mom doesn't love me. And answering those questions or helping understand what that might mean is why I wrote the book. It's really written as a lovely story. And then the last chapter are all the lessons I teach throughout the story.

- Perfect. And where is that book sold?

- It's on Amazon.

- Excellent.

- So, Amazon's got everything, right? So it's on Amazon, on eBooks on a hard, on a soft back and on audible.

- Perfect. And, the woman on the cover.

- Yeah. I have the book here. Right here.

- Who is, is that your mother or grandmother?

- No, it is... It's kind of the picture of the main character in the book, Rose. It's kind of her picture of how she sees herself. I say that I have a thing called the forever age. We all see ourselves as one age in our brain. And I remember waking up in my forties and I looked in the mirror and then I said "Oh my God, when did my mother get here?" 'Cause that's what's staring back at me. And this is the forever age that Rose of the book sees herself in. It's very much, looks a little bit like my mom did when she was that age but the character has a little of an affinity towards Casablanca and lovely hats and being a little extravagant which is part of the reason no one recognized her dementia. So that represents Rose, who's in the book.

- Yeah. So even the photo on the front cover has its own story. I love that.

- It does.

- I love that so much. No, it's very eye catching. And so now they've seen the front cover our viewers have so they can now find it easy a lot easier when they go to Amazon and they can know that that is the right book. So, perfect. Well, Angela, I am thrilled that you were able to join us here today. I'm also thrilled that our viewers will get a chance to pick your brain during your webinar. Thank you so much for joining us.

- Oh, it's my pleasure. I'm very excited about the webinar coming up and just being able to answer questions. It's my favorite thing to do is to help families understand the mystery that is dementia.

- Yeah, and it's pretty clear you have a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience. There's knowledge, but then you've got the experience portion of it. And that's just a dynamic duo right there. So, your webinar, Answering the Hard Questions for Your Loved One with Dementia will be live February 24th, four o'clock Eastern Time. We will see you then.

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