How to Help to an Alzheimer’s Patient

Today I read an article* that stopped my heart.  It was about a seminar for caregivers of dementia patients. The topic:  How brain damage from dementia affects behavior and how caregivers should respond to their patients.

My first impulse was to read it; my second was hesitation.  What if I find out a lot of things I should have done but didn’t do?  What if I made some bad mistakes with Bo? What if I have more regrets?  Do I want to know?

Yes. Yes,  I do because there are so many other people still  taking care of their loved ones with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia.   Maybe I can  pass  important information to them through this blog.

I actually put the article down and didn’t read beyond the headline for a couple of hours, but when I picked it up again,  it sent a bolt through me. It answered questions about perception that Jon and I had for several years:  Why did Bo try to step over the flowers in the carpet or step up from the carpet to the wooden floor?  Why did he pull back instead of following when Jon stood in front and held his hands?  Why was he so afraid on the stairs?  Why didn’t he see the dog sitting beside him?

Oh, how I wish I had known that …

“….the visual field [of the dementia patient] narrows considerably, especially when they are frightened. A 20-year-old ‘s peripheral vision can detect his moving fingers if he stretches his hands straight out to the side, but someone with mild-stage dementia can see only between two arms thrust straight forward. That means it’s easy for him to think someone is sneaking up on him. If you stand right in front of him, you block his full visual field, which can feel threatening.  In other words, it’s best to speak from a distance and approach from the side.”

Looking back,  I ask myself if I did this, not  realizing what I was doing.  I know that I usually talked to Bo as I approached.  Or I often touched his back or arms with affection and maybe this helped.  But I remember the day when Jon, Bo and I were sitting at the kitchen table and the dog came to sit by Bo’s left leg.  “Look at the dog,” I said.  “She loves you. She wants you to pet her.” But Bo didn’t even see her.  He didn’t turn his head.  He looked ahead and sort of mumbled.  Jon also told him to look, but he didn’t seem to understand.  Then I  turned his chair so he was facing Emma.  Now he noticed her.  Jon and I talked about this later.  Why hadn’t Bo turned his head to see Emma?

And then the article hit home  as I continued reading:

“In later stages of the disease, the brain begins using visual messaging from only one eye, throwing depth perception way off and increasing the risk of falling.”

This was the answer.  This was what we didn’t understand.  We thought it had something to do with perception but didn’t know what.

Bo would often balk and refuse to move forward.  Now I realize that as Jon or Cynthia held his hands in front of him, they blocked his field of vision, and as the article said,   he was afraid of falling.  This was particularly true on the stairs.  But when Jon held his hand from the side, Bo moved forward.


August 13, 2015

I’m very glad that I can pass this information on.  I will continue to look for other answers. There’s so much we don’t understand, so much we need to know.

(“How to Talk to Those with Alzheimer’s” by Stacey Burling, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, January 31, 2015, (Section G1)




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11 Responses to How to Help to an Alzheimer’s Patient

  1. Thanks for continuing to write!

  2. Arleen Stolzenberger says:

    This was very informative. I’m glad you are continuing to write.

  3. Mike Good says:

    Thank you for sharing. Although I’m not a caregiver, your insights help me help other caregivers, and help me when I visit with people in memory care.

  4. Jo Ann Kohler says:

    Absolutely invaluable information……thanks so much for sharing and bringing to light the mystery surrounding this disease. Please keep writing.

  5. Paula says:

    These are valuable things to pass on. I am glad you are getting the answers to some of your questions!

  6. MCI Alice says:

    Such useful information. I need to save this article and this post since sometimes in the moment of caring those of use doing the caring can’t “see” as clearly as we’d like either…

  7. boomer98053 says:

    Reblogged this on Baby Boomers and More and commented:
    VERY worthwhile information for all you caregivers out there. Sometimes we steer clear of articles and such because as caregivers, we’re overwhelmed with the volume that comes our way. When I led an Alzheimer’s caregiver support group, one of the caregivers said the following regarding an article I had made copies of for everyone in attendance: “I’m in caregiving overload right now. I don’t want to read about it, but thank you for offering.” I get that. If you have time and want some information on depth perception in those with Alzheimer’s, read this article when you feel up to it.

  8. Linda says:

    Thank you so much for the tip. I am a caregiver to my husband. Anything you can tell me will help. Each day gets a little harder

  9. Oh, Linda, I know it does, and we never know what to expect when we get up in the morning. I’m sorry you’re going through this.

  10. Lucy says:

    I just came across your blog and found it very useful. I work with dementia residents, I knew about them not being able to perceive depth properly but I have never thought how threatening it could be if we stand directly in front of them. I will definitely try to incorporate this info in my work and see if I get better responses. Thank you for sharing 🙂

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