Dementia is defined as chronic, progressive memory loss or personality change. While there are many types of dementia, the best known is probably Alzheimer’s Disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease. Chances are, you have a family member or friend who is living with the disease. While it can be overwhelming and sometimes sad interacting with someone with dementia, it is important that you do not distance yourself from your family member or friend. Your interactions might change, but your friend will still appreciate the time she gets to spend with you. Here are a few ideas to get you started on connecting with someone living with dementia.
The center for music in the brain is one that is almost completely untouched by different types of dementia. There are plenty of anecdotal stories, and even more solid research, that points out the positive relationship between music and people with dementia. Bring your iPod or CD player to your next visit, along with a variety of music selections and start experimenting.
If your friend seems distressed or anxious (watch for hand wringing or worried statements), try some relaxing or classical music. Old hymns often work wonders to relax or bring peace. If your friend seems tired or not too motivated for the visit, try something more upbeat. Try music that was popular when your friend was in their 20s-40s, as that is the music that is most likely to have reminiscing effects. You might be surprised in the change in mood, or in the stories that come, with just a few songs.
Hang out in the kitchen.
When my grandma had a major stroke, she was 74. Her stroke left her with major memory deficits that were not getting any better with time. While she couldn’t keep up with most conversations, she could connect in the kitchen.
Grandma was an amazing cook, keeping her family of 6 at the table for dinner every night. When some of our family members didn’t know how to relate to Grandma once she couldn’t talk as well as she used to, I got out a few pots and some fresh green beans. Once Grandma was at the table with a few of her daughters, and the green beans were within reach, she knew to start snapping them. The daughters visited and snapped beans, and Grandma was actively engaged with the moment, snapping away. What a gift to be able to give my mom, aunts, and Grandma! All because of a few pounds of farmer’s market beans.
There are plenty of studies that show the benefits of being outdoors. Not only will you and your friend get a mood boost from the sun and fresh air, a change in scenery can do amazing things for someone who spends most of their time in the same environment day in and day out. If you go on a nature walk, or just sit on a porch swing, your time outdoors will do wonders for both of you.
Being outside is a multisensory experience. The wind on the skin, the smell of flowers, the touch of rough bark – all are an easy way to stimulate different centers in the brain. Consider bringing some potting soil, a few pots, and some flowers or herbs like lavender, along with you during your visit and plant together. Remember, it isn’t about the end result of a perfectly planted box of basil, but instead about the experience you had together.
Moral of the story – don’t be afraid to be with your friend who is living with dementia. It isn’t about if they remember you or the visit, but is about the experience and feelings you can share. People living with dementia have no choice but to live in the moment. Living in the moment with them is a gift to everyone involved.
Haley Burress is a freelance writer and contributor at Parenting.com and Educational Insights, to name a few. She lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with her (very handsome) Principal husband, and her (very awesome) 4 year old son, Jackson.