Does Approach Matter?

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May 14, 2019
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May 16, 2019

If you are providing care for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s, it might seem that the word “no” has become a natural response to any question. “Ready for your shower?” “No.” “Are you hungry?” “No.” “Would you like to play a game?” “No.” If you feel like you are living the “no”, here are a few approaches that just might help you turn a “no” into a “yes”.

First, let me say that the “no” is not your fault. While it can have something to do with approach, which we’re going to address, I’ve found that a “no” response is pretty common when caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s. You’ll need an arsenal of approaches. If one doesn’t work, pull out another. So be open to learning and being flexible, and don’t take the “no” personally. You’ll also need to respect the “no”. Time may be short, but giving your loved one a little space may give them the chance to relax, and a calm environment is much more conducive to a “yes” response.

According to, there are several ways to define the word approach, but a couple of them don’t really seem like good approaches for caregiving.

Approach – v.

  1. To make advances to; address
  2. To begin work on; set about
  3. To present, offer, or make a proposal or request

To “make advances to” sounds a bit like your heading in to battle. You never want providing care to feel like war. To “begin work on; set about” seems to imply you’re in charge, which can force your loved one into a “stand your ground” mode. If you start your caregiving tasks off following either of these two approaches, I would almost guarantee, you’ll get the “No”.

But let’s look at option 3. To “present, offer, or make a proposal or request”. Now, I believe we’re laying out the groundwork for a more successful outcome. Present the task, “It’s almost lunch time.” Offer choices, “Would you like your favorite soup today, or a chicken salad sandwich?” Propose or request, “Do you mind helping me in the kitchen?”

Tip #1

Offering choices whenever possible gives your loved one back a little of the control they may feel they have lost. Asking for help, offers them the opportunity to feel needed and sets them up for success.

Tip #2

How you “present, offer, or make a proposal or request” is also important. Five elements that I have found helpful include; smiling, greeting warmly, communicating thoroughly, remaining positive, and being patient. Here is a step by step example you might try if preparing to give a bath.

  1. Have a routine. Offer tasks like bathing at the same time/day of the week when possible.
  2. When you approach, smile and make good eye contact as you explain the task.
  3. Offer choices as you can. (Would you like a shower or a bath today? Would you like your bath now, or after the news? Do you want to try the new lavender soap, or your favorite rose scented soap?) Always give plenty of time for response and if too many questions seem to overwhelm your loved one, stick to those that require a simple yes/no response.
  4. If they respond “no”, respect that. Step back and try to redirect them away from the task at hand. Engage them in conversation about a favorite memory and give them time to relax. Then try again.
  5. Offer a favorite game, TV show, or snack once the task is complete. (“Mom, today is bath day. I bought some of your favorite Chocolate Ice Cream, would you like to have some after we’re finished with your bath?”)

Tip #3

We convey a whole lot more through our non-verbal communications, than our verbal. This quote is right on and a great tip for caregivers.

From – “Nonverbal communication is made up of tone of voice, body language, gestures, eye contact, facial expression and proximity. These elements give deeper meaning and intention to your words. Tone includes the pitch, volume and inflection of your voice. Eye contact suggests interest.”

Always be sure that your verbal and non-verbal communication are sending the same message of positivity. Respect your loved one’s personal space, and allow them the dignity of providing as much of their own care as possible. Making and holding good eye contact will help you know your loved one is tracking with you.

Tip #4

Now, we’ve looked at some of the approaches that I know do work. What about those that don’t? I have, unfortunately, witnessed examples of these too. Respect and dignity of others, should always be most important in caregiving. Negative approaches like those listed below can cause fear, anger, anxiety, frustration and a feeling that life is out of control, which leads to negative caregiving outcomes.

Approaches that won’t help overcome the “no”:

  1. Arguing
  2. Intimidating
  3. Demanding
  4. Physical force
  5. Threats/guilt

Instead try redirection. Change the subject or direction to draw your loved one from a negative to a positive. Using information that you know about your loved one, you can offer a favorite candy, start a conversation about a cherished memory, play a game they love, or break out in dance to their favorite music. Redirection is 1-part knowledge of your loved one, 1-part creativity, and 1-part common sense. Okay, redirection is bribery at its finest. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve used it, I’ve loved it and I’ve gotten good results with it!

By: Julie Bigham


Dave Nassaney
Dave Nassaney

Join Dave Nassaney, The Caregiver's Caregiver, author of numerous articles and books, speaker, life coach, and radio talk-show host for caregivers who are burned out, but his most important role is being a caregiver to his lovely wife, Charlene.

His latest best-selling book, "It's My Life, Too! Reclaim Your Caregiver Sanity by Learning When To Say Yes - When To Say No In Long-Term Caregiving" is designed to teach caregivers who are taking care of their loved ones (due to an illness or disability) how to take care of themselves FIRST.

If they don't learn this, they will likely suffer burnout and become as helpless as the person they are caring for.

Tune in every Wednesdays at 12:00 pm, PST, for interviews with experts in the caregiving field, as they discuss topics of great interest to caregivers, which will help them avoid burnout.

Recorded podcasts can be found at, and on iTunes, Blog Talk Radio, or any of the other show icons at the top of the  “Uplifting Interviews” page.

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