Let me start by saying that Dr. Cail is a brilliant speaker. I was privileged to attend her talk at the Virginia Festival of the book last month in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she offered a rare honesty into her life and motivations.
Based on the concept of an "All-Weather Friend," Dr. Cail's book was born in the aftermath of her own personal struggles. At the time of her grieving after the loss of her husband, she wished for a book that could explain this kind of hardship to those who haven't experienced it in their own lives, so that they could be a better friend to someone they love in the throws of a personal tragedy.
So Dr. Cail went on to write that book in the context of Alzheimer's; a debilitating disease that forces caregivers to face countless losses when caring for someone they love.
Dr. Cail encourages us to imagine what it would be like to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's. This is a powerful exercise in empathy. It's helpful, she says, for people trying to figure out how to be supportive in this situation to understand and recognize the stages and symptoms of the disease.
1. Recognize the realities.
Denying or downplaying someone's condition can have hurtful results. It's best to practice honest compassion.
2. Tell, don't ask, about the recent past.
Don't make conversation by asking about recent activities, as those suffering from Alzheimer's often cannot make those recollections. For example, instead of asking: "What did you do yesterday?" Try saying: "I went to the movie theater last night." Telling them about your recent activity instead of asking them about theirs will give them the opportunity to comment and engage in conversation instead of feeling flustered.
3. Bear with repetitiveness.
If you spend time with someone affected by Alzheimer's, you're probably familiar with the routine of repeated thoughts. Dr. Cail suggests finding something else that can occupy your attention but that also allows you to be involved and make eye contact. For example: cooking, knitting or folding clothes.
Dr. Cail's book includes Conversation Guides to help with such situations. No correcting, she says, no contradiction. Just go along with the conversation as it unfolds.
4. Do listen, don't advise.
"Why don't you just try this?!" These kinds of misguided suggestions can be frustrating to caregivers. The most comforting help is a friend who simply listens.
5. See the person you have always loved.
Help yourself and your loved ones not to lose sight of the person you're caring for. Dr. Cail encourages friends to be keepers of memories. As a friend, she says, you do the remembering.
All in all, Dr. Cail's book is about being a friend. It isn't hard. It's doesn't take a lot of time. And you can make a world of difference.
To see more from Dr. Cail, please visit her blog: www.allweatherfriend.com/blog
Interested in reading the book? Buy it here.