For Better or For Worse: Renewing Connection with Cognitive Decline

When one partner is diagnosed with dementia, couples often fear that their relationship – and their decades-long identity as a couple – will be completely lost to the disease. However, while it's true the spousal relationship will change, it’s also true that couples can spark quality connections and enjoy a loving relationship even as dementia progresses, memories fade, and it becomes more difficult to communicate verbally. For many unaffected spouses, grieving the loss of the person they married allows them to focus on loving the person their spouse is now. Learning to Speak Each Other’s Language You’re likely familiar with the book The Five Love Languages – or at least its concept – but have you considered applying the same principles when interacting with a loved one with dementia? It works! 1992, New York Times best-selling author and pastor Dr. Gary Chapman introduced couples to the idea that people receive and show love in different ways. Identifying their own “love language,” and that of their partners, continues to help couples overcome communication barriers and better understand each other’s needs and motivations to create deeper, more meaningful relationships. Applying the “Five Love Languages” to Dementia Care In 2016, Dr. Ed Shaw, a physician, counselor and spousal caregiver, teamed up with Chapman and health educator Debbie Barr to adapt Chapman’s love languages to Alzheimer’s care. Their book, Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade: The 5 Love Languages and the Alzheimer’s Journey, outlines how caregivers can apply Dr. Chapman’s approach to the love languages and their unique communication techniques to maintain or reclaim meaningful relationships with loved ones in various stages of cognitive decline. These languages are identified as: • Acts of service • Gifts • Physical touch • Quality time • Words of affirmation Knowing your loved one’s love language will allow you to express your love in ways they will understand, even in advanced stages of dementia, with the goal of strengthening your relationship and bringing a renewed joy and comfort to you both. Focus on the Love – Not the Lost Memories – for Positive Interactions “Spouses and other family members often approach their loved ones with questions like ‘Do you know who I am?’ or ‘What did you do today?’, but that approach can do more harm than good,” says Jessica Smith, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Wildwood, a new Memory Care community in Wildwood, Florida. “Putting someone with dementia on the spot can cause frustration, embarrassment or even anger when they can't come up with the answer that’s expected of them.” Instead, Smith says, try these communication tips to build positive connections: • Set a pleasant tone and encourage interaction. Pay them a compliment, offer to give them a hand massage, paint their nails, play a game or visit a favorite park. • Encourage conversation with simple stories that don’t require your loved one’s “on-the-spot" input but do allow them to contribute their thoughts or memories as they wish • Don't underestimate the power of emotional memory. Emotions can affect a person with dementia long after an event is forgotten. Your spouse may not remember who you are, but they will remember that you are kind, loving and someone they can trust. • Be mindful and accommodating of limitations, but don’t draw attention to them. • Don't insist they live in your present. If your spouse thinks it’s 1953, it’s a kindness to accept their reality and move on. • If memory issues or distractions are interrupting a conversation, don’t push the issue. Simply follow your loved one’s lead or gently change the subject to maintain your connection. • Remember that your loved one’s memory loss is a disease. Don’t take it personally. “The most important thing is to find a way to communicate so you can enjoy your time together,” says Smith. "Pay attention to your love languages and try different techniques and activities until you find your rhythm as a couple again.” To learn how to speak your loved one’s love language or other ways to renew connections with your spouse or family member, call our team today at 352-358-1952. Designed for You. Defined by You. YourLife™ of Wildwood provides the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. In fact, we were created with that one purpose in mind. Each day, we focus all our energy, attention and resources to creating an environment that caters to each resident’s personal needs, choices and individuality, while ensuring unequaled peace of mind and dedicated support for families. At YourLife™ of Wildwood, we have the ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents thanks to our sole focus on Memory Care. We understand that everyone has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities, so we develop personally inspired care plans that help to enhance and support each person’s independence while enriching their days. To ensure further peace of mind, our team of YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists are on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide assistance with everyday activities, gentle reminders and redirection. With our signature YourStory programming, we not only personalize Memory Care, but we are able to create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational and wellness programming to scheduled outings and other special events, to personal care, assistance and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ of Wildwood, our residents and their families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more! Call us at 352-358-1952 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.