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Living with dementia is difficult. It is difficult for the person with the disease, and it is equally difficult for the people who care for them.
Emotions can be particularly high for family members and loved ones when visiting someone with dementia in care. For some, these visits may be too much to bear. Where once they knew a father, a mother, a wife or a husband, now they see someone who lives with the brain changes that accompany dementia or Alzheimer's disease, unable to recognize family and friends, or call them by name.
In these difficult circumstances, people are sometimes uncertain about how to react. In fact, some believe that it could be better to stay away. What's the point of visiting a person when he or she can't remember who you are or what you've talked about? But as someone with a personal and professional understanding of dementia, I can tell you that it would be a mistake.
While a person with dementia may no longer have their memories, it still retains their feelings and emotions. They still want to feel valued and important. They live only in the present time. Visiting them, you increase their quality of life, and the good feelings last even after the end of the visit.
And it's a two-way street. Your visit also helps you renew your connection with them.
That being said, you may be worried about what to do while visiting a person with dementia. It can be upsetting when they don't remember you or your relationship with them.
The best way to handle this is to manage your expectations and plan ahead. Since people with dementia often have difficulty starting an activity, be prepared to direct the visit.
Some activity suggestions include:
● Take a photo album and go through the images to stimulate conversation.
● Listen to music, and sing or listen to the rhythm.
● Share a cup of tea or coffee and a muffin or biscuit.
● Read the newspaper together and talk about the stories.
● Work on a job or a hobby, especially if it's something they love to do.
● Bring your pet and share unconditional love.
● If the weather is nice, go out for a walk.
● Help them write papers or letters to their friends and family, to help them maintain important connections in their lives.
Here are some other dos and don'ts of visiting someone with dementia.
Kindly remind the person who you are and your relationship with them. Try to maintain eye contact and respond to the emotional messages you receive. Be kind and friendly. Ask them what they want to talk about and do not rush their response.
The appropriate physical connections are important. Hold your hand and give him a hug to the end. Even if they don't understand your words, your tone of voice will come out, because people never lose the ability to read these non-verbal signals.
Don't question them. It can be upsetting when you ask what they ate for breakfast, when they can't remember. And don't correct them. Yes, their spouse may have died 10 years ago, but reminding them of this fact, you're having them re-experience the shock of loss.
And don't use "elder speak" on them. This is the equivalent of baby talk. Even late in the disease they know if you're talking to them like a child, even if they don't understand the words.
If the person gets angry when it's time to leave, ask a staff member to stay with them or distract you when it's time to go.
Remember that quality of time is more important than quantity. Even a pleasant 20-minute visit once a week will make a big difference.
It may seem that a person with dementia does not remember your visits, but going to see them, you are letting them know that they are important and important. It is also a support and a comfort to other family members to know that you care about taking the time.
Living and caring for someone with dementia may seem like the most important things in life are slipping through your fingers.
Your gift of time can have a huge effect. So please make a plan and pay a visit to a loved one soon.
Terri Bowser is a regional educator for rehabilitation, aging in good health and care of the elderly for the regional health authority of Winnipeg.