Connection and relationships are important for happiness and well-being for all of us. The longest study of happiness in the world, The Harvard Happiness Study, has found that it is the quality of the relationships that people have that determine happiness and quality of life. We may write off people living with dementia when it comes to connection. It might be easy to assume that because they will
forget the interaction, that they will also forget the feeling. But studies show, and from our experience, even though a memory may fade quickly, feelings do remain for people living with dementia. Studies show that when caregiver and care recipient connect, they both show benefits!
For some who are experiencing loss in their relationship, connecting with their loved one can feel hard and sad. It is important to acknowledge that those living with dementia change and the ways they are able to connect with others changes with them. If we can look at this not from a perspective of loss, but one of gain, it might become easier. For example, if we approach these new types of connections as ways for us to have positive memories of this time during our loved one’s life, we may have a whole new gusto for connecting! Because we care for people living with dementia, we have had the opportunity to attend a good number of funerals of people who died living with dementia. One of my favorites was a celebration of the life of a highly regarded community member who actually served 12 years in Congress and 12 years as our county District Attorney prior to that. The celebration of his life honored not only all that he achieved during his influential life, but equally honored the years he lived with dementia. Life
does not stop with a diagnosis, but we often treat it that way.
Connecting becomes significantly easier when we let go of our expectations. Expectations for how our loved one should be able to connect and what they used to enjoy doing can really set us up for disaster. Instead, if we let go of our own needs in the connection, and focus on our loved one’s needs we might
have more success! For example, instead of hoping that your loved one is going to remember a memory you bring up, share that memory with them and tell them the role they played in it and why it is important to you. Instead of assuming that your dad won’t like an activity, ask him if he will help you. He probably would love to feel helpful, and it doesn’t really matter what he is helping with. It is all
about how you set it up. So ask him to help you hold a cup while you pour something into it, or help build a silly craft, and then tell him how helpful he is and how much you appreciate him. Then you can reminisce with him about other things he used to help with. All of these things fill his cup……and when
he feels good and connected, you will too!
For our own loved ones, and also sometimes for people we don’t know as well, connecting over things that are fun and spontaneous can be so fun for everyone. You have probably seen viral videos of older people dancing. Who doesn’t love a spontaneous dance party? Although it is a terrible disease, sometimes dementia comes with the gift of no filter. What I mean by this is that the person may be less
inhibited, they may also be quicker to join in, laugh or smile. We do acknowledge that not everyone loves to or is able to dance. So other things work too…..wearing a funny hat, singing a fun song, or doing an activity that has an element of surprise or humor……like the pie in the face game when you never
know if the pie is going to smash into your face, or the game where you put the thing in your mouth that shows all your teeth and you have to try to say something? This is CONNECTION!!! Lighthearted, fun connection that makes everyone feel good!
End stage dementia can leave us with an emptiness and lack of having any clue what to do. We agree this is hard, but again, we have to shift our expectations. Connections at this stage is in the small things. It is in holding hands and physical touch. Maybe it is a taste of a favorite sweet treat, or listening to a favorite hymn. This final stage of the dementia journey is referred to as the Pearl state by renowned dementia educator, Teepa Snow. Pearls are often closed off and hidden beneath the changes to their ability to communicate. But there is beauty inside and if we are lucky, we will be able to access it.
Although you don’t need Connectivities to find amazing ways to connect with your loved one, we know there is so much more on your plate. We have taken the guesswork out of it and carefully pulled together activities that have been trialed with both men and women at all stages of dementia (we do trial with people in the Pearl state but understand that can be very difficult). All of the materials are
right there, and we offer suggestions for connecting, modifying and even include therapy goals that highlight the good you are doing with each activity. To learn more about how we can take some of the hard work off your plate check us out at www.connectivities.us.
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