The Importance of Engaging With Alzheimer’s Patients to Create Meaningful Relationships
As a caregiver, you know how devastating the daily reality is of seeing someone you love slip away. Diminished both physically and mentally, your loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s is starting to become unrecognizable to you as part of a twisted kind of irony. Gone is the sharp witted, intelligent, quick, feisty and fun loving person you knew and in their place, a person who not only forgets who you are but also who they are, losing their tenuous grip on reality at an alarming rate. Being a caregiver is one of the hardest jobs you’ve ever faced. Some days you may want to run away and hide from the responsibilities of caring for someone who isn’t the rock of stability for you that they once were.
In the same breath, this can also be one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever have, as this presents a unique opportunity to form an even stronger bond with a person you have known and loved for so many years — yet on a different level. Any caregiver will tell you they feel surges of hope when, amidst the uncertainty and forgetfulness, they see glimmers of their loved one’s former spark, blazing up at the most unexpected times. Those are the moments you reach for and hold onto. You realize: there’s still a person in there, and that person still deserves to be a part of meaningful relationships. They are not dead; they are very much alive. It’s time to grab onto that hope and foster a connection before it is lost for good.
And that’s why it’s so important to engage with Alzheimer’s patients in creating genuine, meaningful relationships — not just for family members and friends, but anyone who is caring for a dementia patient. They deserve that respect and attention that anyone else does.
Switching Expectations, Adapting to New Environments, Embracing the Change
It all starts with setting the situation up for success, paying attention to everything from the surrounding environment to the body language and tone of voice you use. You’ll have to first change your expectations of the person with declining cognitive capacities in order to accept what is, and become less frustrated and irritated by the inability to do what they once could, points out The Huffington Post. Here are some more pointers:
- Focus less on the past and the future you wanted to have. This will allow you to connect emotionally in a new way and to squeeze the best out of those precious moments remaining. So many of our relationships are geared toward a collective future, such as retiring, traveling or reaching old age together. Realizing that future will not happen the way you envisioned it can be devastating, but it’s something you must get over. This will come with time.
- Remind yourself often that the person you love is still in there, even though they can’t readily tap into memories without assistance. Take the time to reminisce together, look at old photos, listen to their favorite music, recount happy times — even if it’s you doing most of the recalling and talking. Those moments when you see your loved one’s eyes light up with recollection make it all worth it. Perhaps the explicit memory of those experiences has slipped away due to the complicated ways in which Alzheimer’s impacts the brain, but the emotional connections do remain.
- Be patient and offer reassurance, speaking slowly and maintaining eye contact, advises the Alzheimer’s Association. Don’t discount their feelings. Explore them. Give visual cues rather than verbal ones all the time. Use a calm tone of voice. Reach out and touch them to maintain physical contact. So many dementia patients don’t get the touch they need, that indeed all humans need and deserve, to thrive. Keep distractions and noise to a minimum.
- Don’t be afraid to sit in silence, which can be just as deeply moving as interacting. It’s this un-spoken emotional exchange that can be just as meaningful, and even more comfortable for your loved one who may find it difficult to express in words what they’re feeling.
All these helpful tips sound great on the surface. But you may ask: what happens when dad wanders away or mom gets combative? What about when your spouse accuses you of cheating or weaves stories and fantasies you can’t possibly agree with? You may feel it’s nearly impossible to have a meaningful and satisfying relationship with a loved one where you can’t enjoy long, in-depth conversations any longer. You may even guiltily wonder how they can possibly find life worth living in this state.
But many can and many will. Those suffering from diminished cognitive limits can still gain satisfaction out of life and it’s also possible for us to foster meaningful relationships with them. However, we have to shift our wants and our expectations first in order to spot the person still inside. Indeed we have to learn to live in the emotional moment.