The old question about trees falling in forests, and whether or not they make a sound may still be up for debate. But I do know that a person would have to connect the sound heard to the tree falling in order to understand what happened. I discovered that my Mama also benefited more from our time together when I followed a few simple rules of engagement.
Whenever I spent time with Mama, establishing eye contact was always our initial point of connection. Everything proceeded from there. I learned that if I was able to establish eye contact, then she was better able to link my speaking to the sound she was hearing. Early on, she would turn towards me when she heard my voice. In the later stages of dementia, I found that I needed to place a couple of fingers under her chin and gently turn her face towards mine. Then I would say something like, “Hi Mama, how are you feeling? I sure love you” – saying it over and over until I saw her face register that I was there.
Smile all the While
A smile is one of the most important accessories you can wear when visiting with your loved-one. Since Mama didn’t always recognize me (beginning in the very early stages of this horrible disease), the expression on my face told her if I was nice, happy or kind, and if she was safe. A smile communicated all those things nicely. If I was smiling, she could relax and trust that all was well.
Small gestures such as holding a hand, applying hand lotion, brushing hair, painting fingernails are all comforting messages that they are in good hands. Talking or singing softly at the same time will also help express love in a way your loved-one can intuitively understand.
Enter her World
During the first several years that Mama had dementia, she developed the creative ability to come up with crazy stories about everything that was going on around her. Our brains are wired with a natural need-to-know. Science has revealed that if we become aware of an object or circumstance that we cannot explain, the left hemisphere of our brain will begin weaving and concocting a story to provide it with an explanation. The narrative permits the brain to explain the otherwise unexplainable and allows the mind to rest. There is a word for this, ‘Confabulation, also known as ‘honest lying’. It never helps to argue with them — enjoy their creativity, It’s simply your loved-one’s way of keeping their ‘boat of reality’ upright and floating.
I have never been good at keeping New Year’s resolutions. Usually, they have to do with weight-loss or exercise, which I may, or may not have a bit of trouble with. This year, I have come across a resolution that is worth both making and keeping. Be kinder. Especially to someone with dementia.
Most folks generally are kind to others — or want to be. That’s good because practicing kindness, particularly when it comes to folks with dementia is an essential element in the Rules of Engagement.
An article in Psychology Today states that kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Affection, gentleness, warmth, concern, and care are words that are associated with kindness.
The Honey Foundation website asserts that Kindness is a Verb. It’s an action. You’ve got to act to start any form of kindness in this world. Open a door. A friendly wave. A smile.
According to a Cedars-Sinai blog post, Kindness is a chemical. Most research on the science behind why kindness makes us feel better has centered around oxytocin. Sometimes called “the love hormone,” oxytocin plays a role in forming social bonds and trusting other people. It’s tied to making us more trusting, more generous, and friendlier, while also lowering our blood pressure. Acts of kindness can also give our love hormone levels a boost, research suggests.
Science has shown that being kind helps us keep in good health and can decrease the effect of diseases and medical conditions, both psychological and physical. Practicing kindness releases endorphins, our body’s natural pain-reliever. Best of all, kindness is also contagious. Everyone benefits.
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