May 31, 2012 in Washington Voices

Vocal Point: It’s not easy, but listen carefully to Alzheimer’s victims

Darin Krogh

You who have been around someone suffering from Alzheimer’s know that clear speech is one of the first casualties in the war against that vile condition. A simple question asked of a dementia patient often results in a puzzled look on their face, then probably some incoherent chatter and finally an answer or a word related to the answer. Maybe.

Before they answer, you can almost feel the Alzheimer’s patient clearing the mental clutter out of the way in order to get to the response, even if the correct answer is not forthcoming. Even if the question is “Who am I?” when you are a child or spouse of the one with the troubled mind.

Often family members of Alzheimer’s patients are looking for any kindness that can be extended to their sick relative. It’s hard to know if your love is felt inside the brain of the loved one. You cast about for ideas and touches that will bring a moment of happiness to him or her.

One of the kindnesses often attempted by family members is finishing sentences for the Alzheimer’s patient. To see this person you love struggle to complete a sentence is painful. You know the loved one so well that you can be pretty sure of what they will say, therefore you help them complete their expression because they tend to get frustrated and angry at their own inability to articulate a simple thought. This frustration may cause them to clam up altogether.

The end was coming for our mother, the Alzheimer’s patient. Hospice was present and her days were numbered.

We all tried to keep up conversations with our mom during those last days. She slept frequently but woke at times and seemed to have things to say. My sister was helping our mother by finishing her sentences when mom would stumble or pause for long periods. One thought had to be finished before we moved on to another. That is the way of the rational world.

Just a few days before our mother died, my sister and her husband were visiting mom at the hospital. Mother dozed off, so my sister and her husband stepped out into the hallway.

My sister suggested to her husband that they go have some lunch. Her husband shook his head from side to side.

She queried her husband, “No lunch?”

“For me but not for you.”


“Your mother has something she wants to tell you.”


“Every time she starts telling you, you finish her sentence for her. Now go back in there and listen, don’t talk. Let your mother have her say.”

My sister, a stiff-necked woman not given to taking orders from men, did as instructed. She returned to Mother’s room. She stayed quiet and just listened.

After a long, frustrating wait, mother got her message out, the whole thing without my sister finishing up a sentence for her.

My mother told my sister that she loved her. More than anyone in the world.

My sister is the only daughter among several of us brothers. She is also the ultimate caregiver to anyone in our family who is sick. She often tended our mother during this terrible sickness and did things for my mom that we brothers would not do.

Much of this time our mother was frightened and angry like Alzheimer’s patients tend to be. During the painful and fearful times, mother had called my sister some terrible names and verbally attacked my sister in ways that only women can. My sister felt very sad, although she knew that was not really our mother shrieking at her. But it took its toll.

She said that those last words of love from our mother more than made up for all the names and hurtful remarks in the crazy times.

So we all took a lesson. Sometimes the family of an Alzheimer’s victim needs to shut up and just listen. Wait that long time while the thought rises through the mental debris piled in the Alzheimer’s mind. You might miss out on something.

My sister was so happy that I didn’t have the heart to tell her our mother loved me most.

More of Darin Krogh’s stories are available at

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