IN last week’s column “Dementia—Do not take it personal”, I wrote about the history of dementia globally and in the Philippines, and lined out the symptoms and how to not take it personal, as it is not your loved one talking, but the disease.
Today, let us get more personal. Let us look into situations happening daily in thousands of homes of dementia victims (in family homes or their care facility).
While everyone experiences dementia differently and also reacts differently to each situation, there are some patterns that can be observed in dementia victims and their families.
Many dementia victims feel hopeless. They do not see sense in their lives anymore. “Why should I get up today? I am going to lose it, anyway”, is a common response when asking a dementia victim to get out of bed to take a bath or go out for shopping.
Often, this can be linked to apathy and depression, which are common conditions experienced by people with dementia. While many elderly feel the loss of “drive” or “lose their spark” occasionally, it is an entirely different story with dementia victims.
About 50 percent to 70 percent of people with dementia have apathy or depression. Apathy expresses itself in a persistent loss of motivation to do things, or a lack of interest in things. Sadness and hopelessness dominate a person’s life with depression and make it difficult for them to cope. People with depression may also experience physical symptoms, such as loss of energy and appetite changes.
Due to the “hopelessness” of the situation and the difficulty in dealing with dementia victims, their families and care staff respond by writing them off too fast. There is the wrong assumption that people with dementia are not capable of leisure activities or they do not require the stimulation of activities as they “forget it, anyway”. This, in return, creates more anxiety and depression, completing the vicious circle.
Let me challenge you. Remember a day when you woke up fulfilled and happy from a dream, but you couldn’t remember exactly what you dreamed about. The dream was blurred and with a bit of luck, you may remember bits and pieces of what took place in your dream. What you remember, however, is the feeling you woke up with. Joy and happiness. You felt fulfilled without knowing exactly why. You cannot remember your dream anymore. But the dream left traces of joy in your system, which will accompany you throughout the entire day.
It is your task as caregiver, as family, as a relative to be that dream to your loved one with dementia. While they will not remember how they exactly spend the day with you, they will still feel the joy in their hearts. They will forget how much effort you put into making this day special (don’t take it personally), but your effort will change their world (and should fulfill you in return).
What was their hobby? What did they like doing when they were more active? Ballroom dance? Fine, dance together even if it is in a wheelchair. Going out to watch nature, the sunset or watch a movie, reading from the Bible, having dinner in their favorite restaurant. Think of ways, be creative, go the extra mile to make them happy.
You might not be able to create memories for them anymore, so create moments of joy, happiness and a sense of fulfillment instead. These moments will mean much to your loved one. They only have this moment and that is everything that matters to them. You, in return, will have that moment to treasure, and a wonderful and, hopefully, long-lasting memory of your being together.
It might be tough, but go out of your comfort zone and be that dream, that special moment to someone today.
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