Loving well might come naturally for you. Of course, we love our parents (and grandparents) and our children, and we do everything we can to care for them when they need it. It gets difficult, however, when an aging parent or grandparent starts behaving differently, forgetting things like your name, or they can’t quite remember how you’re related to them. This is when it gets more challenging to love them well–with patience and understanding, and most of all, with empathy.
I was fortunate this week to have the opportunity to take the Virtual Dementia Tour® hosted by Touching Hearts® at Home. If you also have a loved one with Dementia or Alzheimer’s, you know that it is difficult to understand what they’re going through, which leads to frustration and feeling inadequate. With the help of the tour, my mother and I were able to walk in the shoes of a Dementia patient–we actually wore shoe inserts to simulate the pins and needles sensation that usually accompanies neuropathy.
While it was a little unsettling (it was supposed to be), this exercise really opened my eyes to the struggles people with Dementia face every day. Simple tasks become difficult due to loss of fine motor skills and loss of central and peripheral vision. Throw in the typical confusion and memory loss, and anyone would start wandering and talking to themselves – which, by the way, is what I ended up doing during my tour.
After being given a quick questionnaire about how I was feeling at the moment, I was equipped with my Dementia simulation tools: blurry goggles, a set of gloves (two fingers taped together on each hand), shoe inserts, and headphones attached to some very annoying conversation and background noise. I was then led to the door of another room and told a set of five different tasks to perform inside the room. Entering the room alone (except for an observer) with dim lights, foggy vision, and distracting noise was tricky enough, now I had to remember directions and perform them with two hands that didn’t fully function while walking on pins and needles!
I was able to complete 3 out of the 5 tasks given to me, since I couldn’t hear what the other two were over all the noise. I was told that I was talking to myself while I was in the room, but I honestly don’t remember opening my mouth. When I was finished, I felt a little confused and anxious to get back to my own reality.
I was glad to sit down and relax again while one of the ladies from Touching Hearts at Home went over the results of the tour with me and gave me some very helpful tips in caring for and communicating with someone who has Dementia.
This is what I learned:
1. Noises are usually amplified and can be very distracting, so try to keep the noise level down, including the noises of little ones.
2. It is already difficult to see with diminishing eyesight at this stage in life, so try to keep bright white lights on and curtains open. Sometimes a person with Dementia may not even realize that it is dark.
3. Allow plenty of time to get to appointments and try to schedule them in the afternoon.
4. Talking to oneself is a comforting behavior and shouldn’t be discouraged.
5. What we may see as strange behavior – putting the purse in the refrigerator or shoes on top of the microwave – should not be corrected. This is their routine and should not be disrupted.
6. Don’t try to straighten up a room that may seem out of order. See above.
And always try to stay positive during this time, enjoy time together, and take care of yourself! If you are interested in taking the tour, click here to find a tour event in your area.