If your family member or friend is in the late stages of dementia, be prepared for what to expect. Here are six suggestions on how to make your visit meaningful and helpful.
In the later stages of Alzheimer’s or another kind of dementia, your loved one may need a lot of physical care. She might be unable to walk, be incontinent of bowel and bladder or be unable to feed herself. Whether she’s in your own home or a nursing home, she may get touched in relation to those needs- for washing, dressing, eating, and more.
However, what’s important for everyone, but especially for someone who is unable to express her needs, is to receive touch that conveys gentleness and love rather than simply accomplishing the task at hand.
So, take time to sit and hold her hand, pat her shoulder, gently brush her hair or give her a hug. She might not be able to demonstrate her appreciation, but it’s there, all the same.
Use non-verbal facial and body expressions.
Go ahead and talk with him, telling him about the latest adventures of his grandchildren or his favorite sports team. But while you’re doing that, also be mindful of what you’re conveying by the expressions on your face and your body stance. Our non-verbal communication (or how we say something) is often just as important as our verbal communication (what we actually say). Smile and make eye contact as much as possible.
Bring her outdoors.
If you’re able and the weather is appropriate, bring your loved one outside for some fresh air. Being outside and getting a little sunshine and outdoor air can brighten anyone’s day, and that remains true for someone with advanced dementia as well. A change of scenery can benefit both of you.
Choose a recording of older favorite songs and play it while you’re there. You can sing along or even leave it so that after you go home, it can continue to be played for your loved one. Music has the possibility of triggering memories and evoking responses, especially meaningful music. You might consider some spiritual songs if your loved one is of a certain faith, or some ballroom dancing music that dates back to when she was young.
Bring a relaxing DVD to watch together
Does your mother have a favorite show? Maybe it’s “I Love Lucy” or “The Lawrence Welk Show”. Bring a copy of that and watch it together. It will be a nice way to pass the time and the familiarity of that show may be a comfort to her, even if she doesn’t show much of a response.
Don’t take it personally.
Know before you go to visit your loved one that he might demonstrate a very limited response to your presence. Don’t seek for him to recognize you or recall your relationship each time you visit. Remember that it’s the disease that is affecting his ability to communicate with you and express appreciation for your visit. If he falls asleep while you’re there, understand that fighting dementia is tiring.
Take the chance to serve him and express your love without expecting anything back. That’s unconditional love, and it can be a blessing to offer it freely to others.
Alzheimer’s Association. Communication and Alzheimer’s. Accessed June 20, 2012. http://www.alz.org/care/dementia-communication-tips.asp
Alzheimer’s Association. Late Stage Caregiving. Accessed June 20, 2012. http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-late-end-stage-caregiving.asp
Alzheimer’s Society Canada. For family members and caregivers: Suggestions for the late stage. Accessed June 20, 2012. http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/Living-with-dementia/Caring-for-someone/Late-stage-and-end-of-life/For-family-members-and-caregivers