Life Lessons I learned from People with Dementia
I am part of the Dementia Friendly America initiative for Montgomery County, MD. We recently had a meeting in which many dementia experts were present and it was agreed that a major reason America is not dementia friendly is because it still viewed as “scary” and “gloom and doom.” However, I have been in this field for several years and I can honestly say that I don’t find dementia scary as people with dementia have taught me some of the most valuable and positive life lessons. Today, I am going to tell you about my top three.
1. Forgive, forget, and move forward.
There have been countless times where I have said the wrong thing or touched a person with dementia in the wrong way or just simply looked at a person with dementia wrong and it has upset them. So, typically I will walk away. Give it a few minutes, hours, or maybe even a day. Then I’ll try again. And almost every time the person has forgotten about it and we’ve been able to start fresh. So many times in life others and especially myself have held grudges or forgiven but haven’t forgotten which truly prevents us from moving forward. Just like how we may take the wrong approach with someone with dementia, someone may take the wrong approach with us. And just like how the person with dementia was able to forget so can we. And we are able to move on to a better relationship, like I did when I got a second chance.
2. The importance of physical compassion
One day I was walking through a Memory care community (a one I would highly recommend, I might add!) and a woman came up to the director and me and looked so sad. She attempted to explain what was wrong but was unable to and the more she tried the more frustrated she became. I hugged her and she leaned into me and cried. Then, she stopped crying and pulled away and had a conversation with us. Although it was not totally clear what she was saying, she was in better spirits after the hug. Something a hug, a handhold, or even a hand on someone’s shoulder can make the world of difference.
3. To appreciate the little things.
I fold my boyfriend’s laundry all the time. He leaves it in the dryer for days and days and days. I swear he waits until I need to dry my clothes because he knows I’ll fold it for him. He always says “thank you” and he’s a wonderful boyfriend too! However, after folding the laundry for one man in particular, I always feel underappreciated when I fold my boyfriend’s laundry. The man I am referring to is a former resident of mine who had dementia. He was looking for a particular pair of pajamas. I knew it was his laundry day so I went to the laundry room and saw his clothes had just finished. So, I grabbed them and took them to his apartment to put away. He sat there thanking me profusely, hugging me, asking if he could tip me, and had tears of joy in his eyes. Something so small made him so happy and honestly it made me really happy too! The small things in life should not be taken for granted.
Working with people who have dementia makes me a better person. It has taught me to make an effort to make everyone feel good, with or without dementia. My dementia practices have overflowed into my regular life and this is something that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the amazing people with dementia that I have met. So I leave you with a final quote:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou