Anyone who has had a family member with Alzheimer’s Disease or another type of dementia can tell you how hard it can be to slowly lose aspects of the person you knew. We all have a need for love and affection, and how it is expressed may begin to change when we know or care for someone with dementia.
In this month of February when we focus on relationships, here are some thoughts about how to keep the love alive:
Remember that Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are a disease. It’s not the person themselves behaving differently or saying unexpected things, but the disease that is impacting their brain.
As the authors Edward Shaw and Deborah Barr of Keeping the Love Alive suggest, each person has one or two “love languages” that speak most strongly to them: acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, quality time and physical touch. Pay attention to which of these makes your loved one feel calm and happy, and then communicate love in those ways.
Do a project together such as a photo book or have your loved one record memories of their youth and early adulthood. Involve friends or members of the family.
Maintain activities you’ve enjoyed together for as long as possible to keep a close connection. Look for new activities such as groups in your area for both those with memory issues and their caregivers.
Dancing and music are wonderful ways to connect, whether listening to old favorites together or getting up and swaying to a tune.
With age, communication with our loved ones typically changes and touch itself becomes a way to stay close and connected. Rubbing lotion on the hands, a foot or neck massage, or holding hands when walking are ways to show affection and make someone feel loved.
As the ability to enjoy those activities diminishes, the nonaffected spouse or caregiver may naturally become lonely. Keeping social contact with friends and family, attending a place of worship, and attending activity groups (e.g. a book group, knitting circle, professional associations) will help alleviate the isolation.
If dementia-related symptoms begin to affect the relationship, speak to your doctor or a therapist about ways to cope. There are a variety of interventions that may help.