Resolution for 2017: Learn to laugh with Dementia.
The end of one year and the beginning of a new year can cause different types of reactions. For some, excitement ensues for what is to come in the New Year. For others, regret of what they missed or lost in the previous year. Personally, I believe it is most important to focus on the positive and what is to gain.
When caring for someone with dementia, it can be difficult to look on the bright side. Our inability to focus on the positive can impact our interactions. I often coach families on how to make memorable moments with their loved one as they are now.
When we sit down to speak with someone who has dementia we start to stumble over our words and catch ourselves saying “You remember that right, Mom?” and then we suddenly stop talking as we painfully remind ourselves “Mom can’t remember that because she has Alzheimer’s..”
Then we try the next question, “What did you have for lunch?” And again we are smacking our mouths shut because Mom can’t remember what she had for lunch either. And now she’s upset because she thinks that she missed lunch and we are beating ourselves up and calling ourselves the “world child ever.”
Relax! Just relax. I am a dementia expert and I make these mistakes too. It will happen! While each situation is very person-centered and there is no “one-size fit’s all” answer, I have some general recommendations for making the most of your interactions with someone with dementia.
Using validation can help deescalate some situations. Perhaps you walked into something you don’t understand but your loved one is visibly upset, frustrated, confused, etc.
Validation is the recognition and acceptance of another person’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors as understandable. With someone who has dementia, you may find it hard to validate some feelings but a simple “I can see you’re very angry” can go a long way in understanding how they’re feeling.
Validating, or acknowledging happy feelings can open the door into great interactions as well! “Wow, I can see you’re having a great day!” or “Look at that smile, I can tell you’re happy!”
2. Keep it simple, keep it short, keep it focused.
Finding activities to do with someone who has dementia can be a challenge. The key is to keep it simple, short, and focused.
Simple: Don’t try to do anything too extravagant. Cooking together, folding laundry together, or just sitting and holding hands while listening to music are all activities you can do right now.
Short: Keep in mind that the attention span of someone with dementia may not be as long as ours, on the contrary, some may be able to sit still for a while. I have had clients with dementia who loved movies and would sit for an entire movie and loved it, while others would become bored quickly. So if you want to try something longer, be prepared to go with the flow if it is cut short.
Focused: Having an activity that limits distractions is great. It can be tough to have someone with dementia come to a game night or large family gathering, as there is too much stimulation. While you’re speaking, try to minimize distractions such as the TV or other people in the room, if possible.
Finally, and probably my most important piece of advice:
3. It’s her/his world and we’re just living in it!
Mom.. Dad.. Uncle.. Brother.. husband.. whomever it is, it is their world and we must adjust the way we enter and interact in their world. If the mailman is her new boyfriend then shake his hand when he delivers the mail! Once we accept this, it makes everything else so much better. It will enable you to laugh with them rather than becoming frustrated by constantly trying to reality-check them.
This is another time validation can be very helpful!
Keeping these ideas in mind will help improve your interactions. Dementia doesn’t always have to be sad. By using these tools and staying positive while you’re with the person with dementia, you may be able to get to know the person you love in a whole new way! Many of my clients have learned how to roll with the punches and laugh with the person they love again. Take these tips with you on your next visit. Happy New Year!