Published on: May 9, 2016
by Nira Rittenberg for The Star:
People with dementia often experience feelings of paranoia which can be exacerbated by their caregivers speaking a language they don’t understand.
My mom lives in a nursing home and staff often speak in foreign languages in her presence. Mom gets upset, saying the staff is rude and she feels like they are talking about her. I don’t know what to do!
This problem arises in many private homes as well as in community settings. People with dementia often have caregivers from different cultural backgrounds whose mother tongues are not English. The issue this raises is the need for education and awareness around communication with someone with dementia, and how it can affect the brain.
Language issues abound with dementia, among them are finding the right words in the early stages of the illness, to difficulty comprehending and expressing oneself. It is important that caregivers are aware of this and use language as a positive tool to help those they look after in their routines and care. Paranoia or suspiciousness is also often a symptom of dementia and having someone speak in front of you in another language can indeed make one feel like they are indeed the object of discussion. This is obviously a bigger problem if gesturing or care accompanies the discussion.
It is critical that you approach the Director of Care of the nursing home and formally sit down to discuss the issue in a productive way. The management may not be aware of the situation (as these actions may not to be done in the open) and it requires their support to effect change. Most nursing homes have government-funded resource staff available to educate and support staff around such care issues. This issue can also be discussed at client care rounds and in family meetings. Get involved in the advisory council if you can and discuss it with other visiting families, if possible. You can ultimately help your relative and other residents too.
If this activity occurs when you are visiting, you may want to ask management to speak to the care worker privately and explain that your mother is very sensitive to this issue and that it creates stress for her. Sometimes, just a gentle reminder of “do you mind speaking in English so mom can understand?” will be enough. You will have to decide whether you feel this is a person that will respond to your feedback. Many caregivers work long hours and don’t always realize that their passing discussions can have such a strong and negative impact on clients. The workers may be socializing as part of a job, but this must not negatively impact on clients. Once presented to them, most of the people I encounter are shocked at the implications of their behaviour and truly mean no harm.
When hiring care providers it is important to set clear guidelines around use of phones and language while also acknowledging that paid caregivers should have time off to talk in whatever way they please as long as these conversations do not agitate the clients.
Your relative deserves to feel safe and respected while communicating in her home.
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