Woman looking through photo album

Honoring Who They Were by Honoring Who They Still Are: Creating Opportunities for Success (Part 2 of 4)

In this four part series, we will walk you through ways to help honor your loved one throughout all stages of the dementia journey. No matter how advanced the disease may be, there are plenty of opportunities for you to connect with your loved one, show your care and create moments that can be cherished.

Every one of us has the need to feel successful and have a purpose. This starts from when we are very small and learning to explore the world all the way to a peaceful old age. This need doesn’t go away when someone is living with dementia. In fact, the desire for success and meaning becomes all the more important as abilities start to fade due to the progressive nature of the disease.

“Even though your loved one may lose aspects of their memory, they still are adults with needs, desires and passions, and they retain the desire to express themselves and be meaningful,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “They feel the loss of abilities quite keenly and need some way to express that. By providing opportunities for them to succeed – no matter how small it may feel – you can provide satisfaction and a sense of well-being that’s unmatched by any other care we can provide.”

When Helping Can Be Hurtful

As caregivers, it’s easy for us to want to help our loved one by doing things for them. While this comes from a place of caring, it also makes it very easy for us to take over. Here are just a few examples of when “taking over” can be more harmful than helpful:

  • Your loved one is struggling to do something
  • It’s taking a long time for your loved one to do something
  • You’re trying to do everything for your loved one, so they know you care and are there for them

However, it’s important to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. How do you feel if someone takes over something you’re trying to do? It may make you feel ashamed, like you’re not good enough or not smart enough to figure it out. It may also anger you, because it can signify that you have no independence or no say in a matter. Or it may make you feel depressed or apathetic, because why bother trying to do anything when someone else will just end up doing it for you?

Even though your loved one has problems with their memory, they still have these feelings, which can have long-lasting effects on their psyche and well-being. Also, because the ability to make judgment calls are diminished, it’s easier for them to have negative reactions to your assistance because they may not be able to ‘see’ your intended goal.

Making Successful Moments Happen

There are two forms of memory that we can tap into to help our loved ones feel more successful without patronizing them: procedural and declarative.

Procedural memory is colloquially defined as “muscle memory.” This is the body memory that comes from doing something repeatedly, like brushing our hair or tying our shoes. Declarative memory is related to remembering an event or a fact. These two types of memories are stored in different parts of our brain, which means that dementia affects them differently. Caregivers can use these two types of memories to positively support and create moments of success for their loved ones.

Procedural memory can sometimes be the easiest way to encourage and promote success for your loved one. Think about the things they can still do, and then provide avenues for them to accomplish that. You can also provide support for the things they have difficulty with by setting up a prepared environment or giving them tools that make things easier.

For example, perhaps your loved one can still get dressed but they have some difficulty from time to time. In order to set them up for success, make sure that their environment is prepared to make the task as easy as possible. Is the room bright enough so they can see what they’re doing? Is there adequate privacy so they don’t feel exposed? Is the room warm enough, and is it free of distractions? Is everything set out neatly so there’s no room for confusion?

Since muscle memory is something that’s instinctual, sometimes just helping your loved one start to do something – or showing them how to do something – is enough to get their body jump-started so they can “take over” the task. An example of this is putting a brush into your loved one’s hand and then guiding it through their hair if they hesitate or don’t seem to know what to do with it. After a stroke or two, their muscle memory can take over and they’re able to complete the activity by themselves.

Procedural memory can be very successful because it’s easy to tell when something has been “completed.” Whether it’s getting dressed, helping to wash dishes or finishing an arts and crafts project, there’s something tangible that your loved one can see as something they’ve “done.”

Declarative memory can sometimes be a little more difficult because it deals with memory, which can be a fleeting thing for those with dementia. However, since long-term memories tend to stay longer and fresher in their brains, reminiscing with your loved one is a great exercise to promote success and providing happy, meaningful moments. Here are some things you can do to help spur declarative memory:

  • Create a photo album of family members, or bring out old photo albums and go through them with your loved one. Prompt conversation by discussing what’s in the picture, especially if it’s something you yourself remember. Don’t ask your loved one “do you remember this or that?” Instead, describe what you’re seeing, and if your loved one responds, encourage them to talk further.
  • Put on some music from their childhood or a favorite song that you know they’ve always loved. Music has been shown to unlock memories in a surprising way and can trigger all sorts of reactions. Your loved one may sing along, clap along with the music or even start talking about memories associated with the song. Even if these don’t happen, you can dance together in the living room or simply hum along with the music. Simply spending time in a happy environment is beneficial to both you and your loved one.

Creating opportunities for success throughout the day helps brighten the lives of our loved ones with dementia – and, by extension, the caregiver. Living in the moment and celebrating the small victories can make each moment happy and fulfilled.

For more information about our community, our culture, mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and

Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.