March 25, 2022
“When you look at a person, any person, everyone has a story.” – Deepika Padukone
I have had the privilege of working with individuals in memory care settings for many years, and I am continuously reminded of just how important personhood is in the experience of someone who is living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.
Due to changes that are happening in the brain, individuals with dementia are often unable to communicate their recent and past history to others, but that does not mean that they don’t have a story that matters very much to them; a history and experiences that have shaped their lives. We all have a life story: childhoods, careers, relationships, sorrows and joys, accomplishments and challenges; threads that weave together to create who we are. So does every person who is living with dementia.
Dementia does not erase life experiences or the value and importance of those experiences to the individuals. It’s vitally important that we not only honor the history of someone who is living with dementia but that we also find ways to connect them to their history.
“Reminiscing” means sharing past events, experiences, meaningful memories or stories from the past. People living with dementia will typically struggle with short-term memories; things that have occurred in recent hours, days, weeks, or months. But long-term memories, things that happened many years ago, can be preserved far into the disease process. Using the phrase, “I remember when” rather than “Do you remember” will empower the individual and help them feel successful.
Favorite photographs, scents, sounds, items to touch and hold, and even a familiar taste can all be useful tools to engage someone with dementia, bringing back long-stored memories of their history and life story.
Procedural memory is related to skills and procedures we have done for a very long time and can be a strength and powerful tool for someone living with dementia. An individual who was a nurse could very well connect to the procedural memory of using a blood pressure cuff or stethoscope. Or a person who was a carpenter by trade could connect to procedural memory by the motions, sight, sounds, and smells of sanding a block of wood. “Doing” rather than “saying” can be especially helpful for someone who is struggling with communication due to dementia.
Although as caregivers we may want to serve and do as much for the individual as possible, it is important that the person living with dementia is empowered to do as much for themselves as possible, that they have the opportunity to contribute to the world around them in a meaningful way. Ask the individual to help you with projects or tasks that they have done in the past. Thank them for their assistance and express how much you appreciate their wisdom and insight. Studies have shown that natural oxytocin and dopamine can be released in the brain by completing tasks and receiving compliments.
Honoring the story of someone with dementia is an opportunity to praise the individual and for them to feel proud of the things they have done throughout their life. Affirm the person’s accomplishments and also their value, their character, and the ways they made the world a better place through simple, everyday actions.
Everyone has a story. It’s so important that we as caregivers know the details and stories of the individuals we are partnering with in care: their past, their accomplishments, their preferences, their values, all the things that have made them who they are. Individuals living with dementia may not always remember their personal history, but with thought, intention, and using the right tools of engagement, we can honor their lives and connect them to their stories.
For more HERstories, check out these recent episodes of Arrow Nicely News!
Saint Charles, Missouri-based Arrow Senior Living manages a collection of communities that offer varying levels of care including independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Each and every senior living community supports residents by focusing on dignity, respect, and quality of life. The programs and amenities offered are selected to provide only the highest standard of quality and comfort.
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