It Takes A Village

Your elder’s care team is just that – a team. You are a part of that team, with the ability to make important contributions to your elder’s care.

When folks are living with dementia, they often are afraid of being asked about something that they don’t remember. It can leave them feeling vulnerable and depressed.

If your elder is living with dementia, at any stage from early to late, the team should be all working on the same game plan. One way to accomplish this is the SHARE.

If the entire care team works together, your elder can be exposed to stimuli that they like, that evoke good long-term memories and that soothe them, while avoiding stimuli that frighten them.

Sharing tidbits that are specific to your elder help the team members reach out to your loved one in ways that help them interact successfully together with everyone, including family, friends who visit and other residents (if they live in a care community).

Think of the 5 Senses as the basis for sharing your elder’s unique likes, dislikes, preferences and history with the entire care team.

Sight

  • What visuals does your elder like? My mom was a gardener all her life. Flowers, vegetable gardens, the Arboretum were all things that she would enjoy seeing – living or in photos.
  • What travels have your elder taken that they enjoyed? Again, my mom and I took a trip to Ireland together and we shared a love of Ireland calendars for years afterward. She loved pictures of Ireland, especially the places we visited.
  • What part(s) of the country or world has your elder lived? Photos of where they’ve been raised, or of a place where they lived, often spark good memories or thoughts of folks they met or knew.
  • If your elder had an occupation that can be captured in photos, or tools, or examples, those might also be a way to connect.
  • Consider sharing a visual version of your elder’s family tree with the care staff. They might hear a name and be able to place that person if they know the members of the family and where each belongs.

Sound

  • Music is often soothing to elders because it brings back long-term memories and/or the familiarity brings comfort. Were they fans of Big Bands, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, folk music?
  • Did your elder play an instrument or sing in a choir? Are there ways to connect those beloved sounds with your elder?
  • Church music is often comforting as well. My grandmother woke up with a hymn on her lips every morning. As she got older, those hymns brought a smile to her face when she heard them.
  • How about a recording of a beloved voice? A child, a spouse, a sibling.

Taste

  • What foods do your elder love? Did they enjoy cooking? Perhaps discussing prep methods or recipes would be fun.
  • Were they foodies? Did they like trying ethnic foods? Did they take food tours or take cooking classes for fun?
  • Did they have a job in the food industry?
  • Share likes and dislikes. My mom hated Jello and never wanted ice in her water. The staff at her community kept giving her both of these, until I put up a sign in the kitchen asking that they leave off Jello and not put ice in her water.
  • My in-laws were vegetarians, with my father-in-law a professor of nutrition. My father-in-law loved to discuss the benefits of vegetarianism still, even while living with dementia.

Touch

  • Did your elder ever knit or crochet? Would they like to feel (or see) a project like what they used to make?
  • Did they have a pet that they loved? How about allowing a therapy pet to visit them? Soft fur and loving cuddles might do wonders for your elder’s happy factor!
  • Does your elder like hugs? Or not like hugs? Do they like to hold hands with those they are visiting with?
  • Soft fabrics like throws or down comforters might be soothing and comforting. Flannel sheets in the winter, flannel shirts, linen in the summer. The feel of these fabrics can be reminders of things your elder enjoyed and still enjoy.

Smell

  • Olfactory memories are some the longest lasting.
  • Buttered popcorn can bring back memories of going to the movies as a kid or on a first date with their spouse.
  • Scented candles might bring the outdoors inside, if they are floral or forest scents.
  • Beloved foods, soaps and creams, wood-burning fireplaces – these are scents that might be associated with wonderful times.
  • Don’t forget to share what scents they don’t enjoy. These can change a happy attitude into frustration quickly. Without this knowledge, the care team could misinterpret what is happening if a hated smell is the cause of the change in behavior.

In summary, SHARE stories, insights, preferences, history, personal likes/dislikes. You don’t have to do this all at once. Bring something to discuss at each visit or have a time at each care conference for sharing.

This is a two-way street. Let the care team know that they can ask you questions about your elder, especially if they find something particularly soothing or irritating.

Tackle quandaries together. If something is vexing you or a care team member, put on your problem solving hats together. Let the team know that input from everyone is welcome.

Now, put all these tips into practice. Remember, your elder is probably afraid of not remembering something that they think they should know. So, heed this advice.

In your conversations:

  • DO NOT ASK – do you remember?
  • Instead, say “I was thinking about when …” or “When I/we …”.
  • Describe what you remember only.
  • Your elder can comment or add or elaborate – IF THEY REMEMBER! If they don’t remember, then they don’t feel the pressure of failure to remember.

Be gentle with yourself, your elder and the care team. This is not easy and it’s not intuitive. Remember the concept of lifelong learning?  Well, this fits into that category.

It truly takes a village. You can be the Mayor or you can be a Townsperson, but you and your whole family are part of the village.

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