Some Assembly Required
Gift giving during this holiday season may become a bit more difficult once friends or loved-ones begin their journey down the path of dementia. Desires diminish, the ability to focus fades, and attention spans shorten as senses dull. Previous interests change or may even fall away.
A number of years ago, I read, “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. It is an insightful book. Chapman explains that each of us has a primary language, or way of perceiving and giving love to others. As the title suggests, there are five languages: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Each one is important and expresses love in its own way.
Through a series of questions, the book helps you discover and explain your primary love language, what it means, and how you can use it to more fully connect to others.
Somewhere along Mama’s journey through dementia, we began to realize something had changed. No matter what her primary love language was before, it was going to take all 5 languages in order to penetrate the fog of dementia and communicate love from her point of view.
From the giver’s point of view, however, the gift of Quality Time will become the overarching action. The farther down the path of cognitive decline your loved-one travels, the more prominent quality time becomes.
As a caregiver, the language of Gift Giving may become a necessity in order to provide personal needs for your loved one.
For example, I remember a time when Mama needed new slippers. It wasn’t the season for slippers, so pickens’ were slim. We opted for the practical – finding a nice, sturdy pair that had a soft fur lining, they were men’s, but fit her perfectly. I was excited to have found what I thought were the ideal slippers. I slipped them on Mama’s feet. She looked down at them, made a face and said, “Ugg!” Whoops! It turned out that she still possessed moments of fashion sense.
Needless to say, I searched high and low, and finally found a pair of pretty, pink slippers. She didn’t really respond to them, but I knew that in her lucid moments, she would be pleased.
When you are a caregiver, Acts of Service are going to happen – perhaps more than you would have ever anticipated. However, your loved-one may not even realize the service you are providing. For example, cleaning a kitchen or doing the laundry may be an act of service, but might not speak to them in a tangible way. It is the together time, if possible while cleaning that will communicate love. The happy feelings your loved-one experiences while you’re cleaning will linger on.
Just as Acts of Service are an ongoing part of caregiving, so is Physical Touch. Brushing hair, applying lotion, hugs, and handholding happen when Quality Time is taken to speak love in this manner.
Words of Affirmation – both spoken and written are lovely and needed. But, words are most effective when spoken in person. Someone with dementia may not be able to connect well with the voice on the phone or face on a computer screen.
Communication is key
Understanding how to communicate love is helpful, but we all know that life gets busy and quality time becomes sandwiched in between all our other responsibilities. Quality Time can be hard to carve out of our hectic lives. But we do the best we can. So, at the end of the day, taking care of Mama may have included all the ‘languages’, but really, the only thing that ‘spoke love’ to her was the quality time we spent. But, did I mention that we simply do the best we can.
Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “FinishingWell: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy on your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook