I have a relative (my aunt’s husband) who has recently been diagnosed with moderate Alzheimer’s, and I haven’t spoken to them in a while. They have moved to a senior living facility. Can you give me some advice on how to get back in touch with them while being sensitive to what they are going through?
— Melissa

An Answer from Mary

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Get in touch the way you would if no time had passed. Don't worry about the delay. Chances are, your relatives will be more than glad to hear from you. Your uncle will understand; you can apologize—if you feel you need to—and reassure him that you want to be involved. Your aunt with moderate Alzheimer's probably will not have noticed. 

1. Speak your uncle first: Get more information: "How advanced is her dementia? Does she enjoy talking on the phone or would a visit be better? Will she recognize us? What would she enjoy doing when we visit?"

Acknowledge the loss: "This is a hard time for you, Uncle John. As you know, Edward's mother had Alzheimer's, so we know something about caregiving" OR "This must be a hard time for you, Uncle John. We haven't dealt firsthand with dementia, but we want to keep in touch and help." 

2. Based on what your aunt may enjoy, plan an activity for your visit, such as looking at an old photo album or pictures of your own grandchildren and family events. Remain open to whatever seems right in the moment: It may be a good day and you won't need the activity. But planning ahead will make you feel more comfortable and might ensure a better visit if things feel slow and awkward. Some people in moderate stage dementia enjoy simple games and puzzles.Creating Moments of Joy, by Jolene Brackey is a good book for ideas.

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