When visiting someone with dementia, be ready for anything. Things can change day- to- day, even moment- to- moment in dementia care. A little preparation can go a long way to help create a positive experience in dementia care. Have a “magic bag” ready that you can pull things out of that may reach through the dementia to the person inside.
The magic begins by interacting with all the senses. Though some senses may have diminished from effects of dementia, other senses may still be sharp. In previous posts, we suggested pictures or items to bring back memories. There’s memory magic in senses beyond just vision.
The key to creating magic is to learn what the person did in the past or what was happening in the era that they grew up in, and then recreate sensory experiences to evoke memories.
Sound magic is not limited to just music. You can find recorded sounds of just about anything online, especially on Youtube. Here are a few favorite examples.
Familiar sounds often help to recall memories and evoke emotions and stories are sure to follow.
Touch magic is made with texture of familiar things from a person’s life. Present different textures of things such as fruits, fabrics, sand, beans, string/yarn, seashells, leaves, doll babies, tools, engines, aprons. Explore with many objects to discover which ones bring comfort or trigger memories.
If your magic bag contains objects to see, hear and touch, you’ll be equipped to conjure special moments. Care partners become detectives as we look for pieces of life. Because you never know what that one thing will be that reaches a forgotten piece. The magic happens while taking the journey together.
Family members and professionals alike struggle with how to interact with a person living with the bewildering condition of dementia. As a caregiver, it’s easy to forget that this person can often answer and follow much more of a conversation than given credit for.
These are two “magic phrases” that many times will get the person’s attention and foster meaningful interaction: “Would you help me with this?” and “I need your help”. Individuals still long for a sense of purpose and when engaged in this way, he/she indeed feels that they are still a part of things.
We all feel valued and respected when asked to give advice or to help with something. As a caregiver, we feel we matter. The same is still true for people with dementia. Although the advice or help may or may not be quite on track, they will notice that we asked and are willing to listen to them. The same feelings of value and respect remain.
Actually, more times than not, I’m surprised by the response that tells me the person not only knows what I’m talking about, but offers spot–on insight. I saw this first-hand when I recently visited my brother who has mid stage dementia. I was lamenting, mostly to myself, that I will be turning 60. I said, out loud, “Sixty! How did this happen?” Without missing a beat my brother replied, “Well, we grow older every year and wiser and then it just comes around to that.” I was shocked and it made me smile. I was given a reminder that he was still with me.
So, next time you are at a loss for how to connect, you might say, “Tell me your thoughts on…” (Recipes, a favorite season, songs, politics, or anything about just plain life). See what gems, humor, and stories you discover. The person with dementia will thank you for it.
What happens when an eldercare professional becomes a family caregiver? This situation hit home when my husband had a cycling accident and fractured his hip. I was surprised by my reaction to suddenly becoming his care partner, juggling the role of home nurse, personal care attendant, meal provider, and problem solver of getting around in our two-story house. Somewhere in the mix I was also moral support and empathizer. The first week centered on creating a new routine, helping with pain management and personal care. Oh, and wound dressing changes. I quickly was reminded why I never became a nurse, calling a nurse-friend in a panic because the dressing from the hospital was stuck to the wound and I was sickened by pulling it off! If I’m perfectly honest, I felt angered at times by this turn of events that intruded our lives- I didn’t have time for this! It didn’t help seeing my active husband now using a walker- making him “old” to my eyes, bringing up fear about what’s to come as we age.
Now four weeks later I’m a bit more philosophical and I wonder about the interplay of personal and professional roles for those of us with years of experience in eldercare services. As an occupational therapist and dementia care educator I’d like to think I know something about managing home care. But I acknowledge that when it’s personal it’s a totally different dynamic. The boundaries become fuzzy and my emotions make it hard to be as objective as I would be in a professional role.
Luckily our situation is temporary. I know so many people for whom caregiving is endured for years, like my nurse friend who recently lost her husband to dementia and cancer. She cared for him at home for five years. We all will be eldercare partners at some point. I guess we have to suite up, show up, do the best we can, and allow others to help us out along the way.
Our team was priviledged to have recently been asked to present at the North Dakota Long Term Care Association. Included in this event was a special one day Frontline Caregiver Conference. In an industry faced with severe staff shortages, particularly in North Dakota, we certainly applaud the leaders that chose to honor frontline staff with a day to network with other professionals, enjoy some pampering from vendors (massages and mani’s to name a few!) and develop new skills to enhance their very demanding jobs.
After a busy week, it was nice to reflect on the events that took place during the flight back to Texas. I have deep respect for those who choose the path of caring for elders. While it can be a rewarding profession, it’s also one of the hardest jobs on the planet. My heart and soul for the senior care sphere is embedded in years of personal caregiving for my own parents. I learned quickly how heartwrenching it is to witness a parent’s declining health; to rely on someone else to love and nurture them when you can no longer do it all yourself; and to put one’s own needs aside to give wholly to someone, especially when they are struggling.
Through this, I witnessed multitudes of caregivers who were professionals in their field, having the unexplainable gift of serving, communicating and giving unconditionally. This takes a special human being. As a family member, these caregivers were our angels.
To the associations and providers who are stepping up to honor frontline staff, I applaud you and encourge others to add this to your agendas for your next conference, convention or symposium. For elder care communities, this should be engrained in your culture. One client we have the honor to work with actually flips the org chart every morning. Those they serve come first, and guess whose next? The frontline staff. THAT is culture change.
The life blood of our industry lies in empowering, training and supporting our frontline staff. We are privileged to help in this efforts. We need to all move in the same direction with these core values and committment to changing our culture together.
Honoring our seniors means honoring those who care for them.