Before the pandemic, many people avoided visiting their loved ones with dementia, telling themselves, “Mom won’t even know who I am” or “Dad won’t remember I was there, so what’s the point?” In fact, a survey by the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society found that up to 42% of the public thought it was pointless to visit someone who no longer recognized them. At the same time, a second study by the society reported that more than 50% of people with dementia were no longer participating in social activities, and 64% felt isolated after their diagnosis.
But this spring’s mass self-isolation practices, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing are shining a brighter light on the importance of human connection – any human connection – to mental and emotional health, including for people with dementia.
“Even if the person doesn’t know who you are, they can still feel your love, be soothed by your voice, and benefit in other ways from your positive attention and affection,” says Danielle Buck, Director of Community Relations at YourLife™ of Stuart, a Memory Care community in Stuart, Florida. “And they’ll come to associate your visits – and you – with positive feelings.”
That’s because people often retain what is called emotional memory through all stages of dementia. This means that when a positive connection is made, your loved one will likely continue to feel happy and content long after the details of your time spent together are forgotten.
In this post, we’ll present 6 ways to enhance your visits to keep your loved one feeling safe, happy and at peace between visits.
1. Safety First
• As the country begins to reopen, it’s important to remember that seniors, especially those with certain underlying conditions, are still vulnerable to the virus, so it’s vital to consider your loved one’s physical health – and yours – before visiting in person.
• If you’re not comfortable visiting in person yet or suspect you’ve had recent exposure to COVID-19, set up face-to-face virtual visits for now. Video chat apps are easy to use and still allow your loved one to benefit from seeing your face and hearing your voice.
• For in-person visits, note that most public places still strongly advise, if not require, everyone to adhere to strict CDC, state and local health department virus-prevention guidelines. Wearing masks, meeting outside, maintaining six feet of separation, and taking other measures can protect you and your loved one and give you peace of mind for a stress-free visit.
2. Choose Appropriate Activities to Enjoy Together
Engage your loved one’s interests. When searching for activities, think about their hobbies, talents and current strengths. Some ideas include playing games, singing, caring for friendly pets, gardening, looking through photo albums, or simply sharing a meal.
In this moving 13-minute TEDx Talk, author and food blogger Elissa Altman explains how sharing food, stories and conversation around the dinner table can nourish your loved one’s body, heart, spirit and soul.
3. Make It Easy for Your Loved One to Participate
Modify the gameplay or rules of your loved one’s favorite games to match their current abilities or choose a simplified version of an activity they’ve always enjoyed. If painting with brushes is now too difficult for your artistic loved one, for example, try finger painting.
You can also try dementia-specific activities like Making Memories Together®, a noncompetitive board game created for people with dementia and their families to play together. Portions of the proceeds from this game are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.
4. Speak Slowly, Clearly and Succinctly
People in the mid or later stages of Alzheimer’s disease often have trouble following lengthy stories or sets of instructions. It’s important to limit distractions and background noise, speak slowly, and simplify your language to keep sentences short and words clear. Be patient and allow the person to finish their sentences. If they are struggling to find a word, however, they may appreciate a gentle prompt.
Speak to your loved one in a pleasant, respectful manner and consider how facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and a reassuring physical touch can show affection or help communicate your message.
5. Use Humor
Keeping your sense of humor and encouraging your loved one to use theirs can open communication lanes, build trust, strengthen your bond, and make spending time with your loved one truly enjoyable experiences.
As always with humor, consider your audience. Elaborate jokes that the person can’t follow to the punchline or the playful digs they once appreciated could now embarrass them or be painful reminders of their fading abilities.
6. Be Attentive to Their Mood and Feelings
If you notice your loved one becoming upset, agitated or frustrated, change the conversation or find a new activity that will soothe them. Also, try to schedule your visits around times of day when your loved one tends to be the most alert and comfortable.
“We know it can be difficult for families to visit loved ones who no longer recognize them,” says Danielle Buck from YourLife™ of Stuart. “But it may help to know that people with dementia do recognize those who make them feel safe, loved, valued and happy, and they will appreciate that you came.”
For more tips on how to create safe, meaningful visits with your loved one, call the life-enrichment experts at YourLife™ of Stuart. 772-212-2448
Designed for You. Defined by You.
YourLife™ of Stuart was created with one purpose – to provide the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. As Memory Care specialists, we focus all our energy, attention and resources on creating a community that caters to each resident’s personal needs, respects their choices and honors individuality while providing unmatched peace of mind and support for families.
Because Memory Care is our sole focus, we have the unique ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents. We see each resident as an individual, understanding that everyone has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities. With that information, we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence.
Our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assist with everyday activities, gentle reminders and redirection.
Through our signature programming, YourStory, we create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational and health and wellness programming, scheduled outings and other special events to personal care, assistance and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ of Stuart, our residents and families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more! Call 772-212-2448.