When a loved one has Dementia: How Do I Respond?
The numbers of those affected by Dementia is astronomical whether it's the person living with Dementia, caregivers, family members or friends. It's predicted that those affected by Dementia is only going to increase in the future. According the Alzheimer's Association "Quick Facts," there are more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer's alone, and by 2050 this number could rise to 16 million. This disease affects someone's cognitive functioning, communication, behaviors and can affect someone's identity and ability to lead an autonomous life.
Due to the impact Dementia has on someone's mind a lot of us tend to have the same questions about how to properly interact and the best way to maintain positive relationships. Now there are several different kinds of Dementia, and depending on the type of Dementia this has different impacts on our daily functioning. Dementia can be described as an umbrella term. For example, Alzheimer's and Dementia with Lewy Bodies are both different types of Dementia, both have different proteins affecting the mind with different impacts noticeable by cognition functioning and behaviors. Someone living with Dementia with Lewy Bodies may experience hallucinations while someone with Alzheimer's may not experience hallucinations. There are different symptoms with the varying types of Dementia. And someone can also be diagnosed with multiple types of Dementia.
Yes, this is a very complicated disease.
I want to first share a story from someone in the audience of a presentation I gave:
She explained that every time she went to visit her Mom, she would stare out the window and talk about the train. She went on to explain that there was no train in existence so it wasn't possible so she never knew how to respond.
The real question is: Is it more important for you to be right or is it more important for loved one to feel joy and validation?
When we think about it, someone living with Dementia could be experiencing life in a confused world and by telling someone they are wrong, it is just another thing to add to the list of "not being right." Whether we have Dementia or not, all people want to be heard and seen and that person's reality may now be different from our own. In that person's reality there is a train. Perhaps there is a train nearby that goes off at night and you don't even know too. Whether that train is in our reality I believe we care most about our loved ones and only want that person to feel most comfortable while maintaining the most positive relationship we are able to. So next time someone sees that train ask about the train. Engage in a conversation where that person thinks the train is going, it's amazing how that conversation will unfold and perhaps open up to another conversation. In these moments it's best to remember that the person is separate from their disease. This may affect someone's reality and lets face it, no one likes to be told they are wrong. Especially if you can imagine being affected by a disease that we can't control and then being told we are wrong is going to decrease self-esteem, confidence and affect the time spent together as it may increase agitation since we may not then feel understood.
At the end of the day it doesn't matter if the train is really there. What matters is that the person felt understood and was able to connect with you.
Author: Leara Glinzak MSAT
Contact Leara to find out more about how Art Therapy can help you or schedule an education session on Dementia via email: https://www.learaglinzak.com/