Connecting with and Caring for Those with Dementia

connecting with and caring for those with dementia

Sometimes, great advice or information comes from the most unlikely of places. In this case, we’re talking about a parenting podcast that offered transformative information about how to connect with and caring for those with dementia or who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

In December of last year, Zen Parenting Radio (a podcast dedicated to mindful living and parenting) hosted an interview with Deborah Shouse and her brother, Dan. Their mother was diagnosed with – and eventually passed away from – dementia, and that diagnosis and the resulting journey led her adult children on a quest to find ways they could connect with their mother, even when dementia changed so much about who she was and how she interacted with the world.

Creativity is the key to connecting and caring for those with dementia

Not only was that quest fruitful in many ways, the insights gleaned from the journey led Deborah to write and publish the book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together. She has since authored a second book, Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. Both books offer a rich tapestry of compassionate understanding, paired with practical ideas, for those who live with, love and/or care for adults with dementia in any form.

The siblings eventually realized they were most successful in connecting with their mother when they interacted with her in creative ways and when they were able to release attachments to who their mother had been. They found it most helpful to remain open to who she was in any given day, hour or moment.

We highly recommend listening to the podcast (Click Here to do so) to learn more about their experience and insights. In the meantime, here are some of the most important takeaways from the interview.

Let go of who your parent or loved one was and embrace who they are Now.

For the first little while, your loved one will seem just like they’ve always seemed, with the occasional changes associated with dementia – forgetfulness, confusion, increased inability to find the right words, and so on. Over time, however, they may not recognize you or others, they might not remember what they did the day before, the may say they don’t like the things they used to like, or that they like or want to do things they never cared about before. Rather than resist these changes, Deborah and Dan learned to accept them and did their best to meet their mother right where she was at at any given time. This helped them to have more present connections.

Let creativity be your guide.

Countless studies have shown that Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are stimulated, engaged and more lively when participating in creative outlets, ranging from art classes and flower arranging to gardening, singing, baking, sculpting and so on. If they can’t remember the words to a tune, you can hum together. You can be the head chef or baker preparing some of your parent’s favorites (or new requests) and the parent can help you prep or keep you company. If they were amazing artists in the past, you might find their art is no longer up to that original standard but you accept the process for what it is and celebrate engagement and connection wherever you can find it. If they never participated in artistic outlets, keep trying different mediums and you may be surprised your loved one now enjoys watercolors, sculpting, collaging, coloring or drawing.

Never stop visiting or bringing in friends or family.

It’s not emotionally easy to continue regular visits with someone who doesn’t remember you or can’t connect who you are with who they are in their newest incarnation. However, Deborah and Dan noticed that visits from family, particularly Dan (who lives in Japan and could only visit a handful of times per year) were extremely stimulating for their mother. Her energy would be higher and brighter for days after a visit.This helped them to realize that while it may be difficult – and downright painful – for loved ones to connect with someone who they hope will remember them, or show some signs of recognition, visits from loved ones did a world of good for their mother’s well-being. Perhaps the easiest way to handle this is to pretend you’re visiting a friend’s relative or caring for those with dementia – you can be compassionate, kind, loving and tender – without as much of the tension or frustration that can arise when you want your loved one to be someone they are incapable of being.

This helped them to realize that while it may be difficult – and downright painful – for loved ones to connect with someone who they hope will remember them, or show some signs of recognition, visits from loved ones did a world of good for their mother’s well-being. Perhaps the easiest way to handle this is to pretend you’re visiting a friend’s relative or caring for those with dementia – you can be compassionate, kind, loving and tender – without as much of the tension or frustration that can arise when you want your loved one to be someone they are incapable of being.

What we learn over and over again is that connection – in any form – can help to ease the burdens associated with the land of dementia, and can provide an inspiring way to facilitate a loved one’s well-being.

Are you looking to support or augment memory care for yourself, a spouse or a loved one? Contact us here at HomeAide Home Care and we’ll be happy to discuss the best means of getting the care you need and caring for those with dementia.

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