Coach Frank Broyles minces no words as he shares his mission to improve quality of life for more than five million Americans with Alzheimer’s, their caregivers, and their entire family. Coach Broyles draws on years of experience at the University of Arkansas and uses his leadership skills to rally family members to form a game plan.
“Attitude is your No. 1 asset,” the coach tells the audience at the Mid-Missouri Chapter’s Caregiver Conference. “You can’t be perfect,” the coach advises the caregivers. Rather than be unhappy about shortcomings, caregivers should learn all they can and feel good about doing their best.
The coach stresses the importance of having a game plan to provide the best care possible for your loved one. He urges caregivers to make their loved ones feel safe and loved. “It’s all about communication—be creative and compassionate.” He gave an example of creative communication. If his wife, Barbara, asked to see her mother, he would tell her, “You mother is out of town today.”
After Coach spoke, his daughter took the stage. Betsy Arnold and her family moved back in with her parents to help Coach take care of her mother who was in the middle stages at the time. Betsy’s part of the program is laced with humor, but it doesn’t keep her from giving nuts and bolts type of information. Betsy covers everything from the stages of Alzheimer’s to the stages of grief. She thinks the key to communication is to let the person with Alzheimer’s control the conversation.
Betsy suggests that making eye contact is the key to conversation. The eyes will help you determine whether your loved one is happy, sad, confused, or frightened. Betsy learned to communicate by speaking calmly and using positive language. She found her way through many crises by proclaiming, “Isn’t that great?” or “This is going to be so much fun!” When your loved one repeatedly asks the same question, the question is important, and you should answer it like you had just heard it for the first time.
When her mother asked to go home, Betsy learned to reassure her and make her feel safe. Betsy took her mother out for milkshakes as a distraction. She jokingly admitted her mother went from a size 4 to a size 12 thanks to the milkshake bribes.
The last conference speaker was Coach’s granddaughter. Molly Arnold was only twelve years old when her family moved in with her grandparents. One of the most vivid impressions she had of her family was how they turned a negative into a positive. When she and some of her cousins were sorting through some of her grandmother’s papers, she found the following quote: “Do a good deed today. If someone finds out, it doesn’t count.”
The Broyles family shares their experiences to encourage other caregivers to allow their love to guide them throughout the difficult circumstances of providing around-the-clock care. Coach Broyles said, “There is no substitute for touch.” He believes touch is vital for everyone, but especially for someone with memory loss.
Coach Broyles said that he and Barbara spent many pleasurable hours browsing through their travel scrapbooks. The photos from their vacations put a smile on Barbara’s face and made her happy. The scrapbook is an activity the entire family can enjoy. Bringing the past to the present helps you and your loved one reconnect through shared memories.
Copyright © April 2010 L. S. Fisher
Recommended reading: Coach Broyles Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers.