As a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient, you are learning to live, essentially, in another world. Your loved one doesn’t think or respond the way you expect, and that can be frustrating. If anything, a caregiver needs to learn to be flexible, which is not as scary as it sounds. In fact, this spontaneity can refresh your life and lead to some wonderful — although brief — times of bonding.
Dementia patients often drift in and out of reality — our reality, that is. If you are alert and willing to drop your defenses, you can provide your loved one with moments of joy that will, in turn, teach you to savor every moment and make the most of life.
Think back to times when you acted spontaneously and had a great time. Maybe you jumped in the car and drove to Wherever. Did you ever buy that dessert you saw in the diner window and eat as if you didn’t own a scale? Those moments, especially when shared with special people, can be particularly delightful. Improvisation is one of the funniest forms of comedy because it is unexpected, which also makes it hard for some. It is also a good way to carry on with a dementia patient, learning to capitalize on their lucid — and not-so-lucid — moments.
Let down your guard and learn to play with the patient, much as you would play with a child. If the patient starts to “babble,” turn it into a conversation that doesn’t necessarily have to make sense. Take turns hugging “Dolly.” Go for a walk in the park and look at the “birdies” and “doggies” and “squirrelies.” Who cares what others think of your baby talk? Put on some music (indoors or out), or hum a tune, and dance like there is no one looking. Paint Mom’s fingernails her favorite color, or make Dad his favorite dinner, whether he eats it or not. In other words, create surprises that will capitalize on those moments of recognition, and you’ll be surprised to tears at those brief, knowing smiles and giggles.
Learn to relax around your loved one, even while expecting the unexpected. Remind him or her how special they are and how much they are loved. Be Sister Martha or Joe Cool, her old boyfriend, if that’s who they think you are. If they are “shopping,” pick out some nice veggies for “dinner.” You know what? Not only will you bring sprints of joy to your loved one — you will learn to savor the quality of moments, not the length of days. You will learn to live in the moment. You may not become the star of the Vegas circuit, but you will be the hero of your loved one’s world!