Our fears, insecurities, or the uncomfortable factor can dampen our resolve to visit our loved ones with dementia. However, two well-known reactions can stop us cold, causing us to miss out on precious moments with them.
The best-known obstacles are fear they will not recognize who we are to them, and the nagging feeling it won’t be of any benefit since they’ll forget our visit soon after.
Not Being Recognized: Why would a close family member or friend with dementia not recognize us? This reaction is common with people having Alzheimer’s type dementia. These diseases impair their ability to connect your face with the declarative memory of who you are to them. At the same time their emotional memory is enhanced, helping them to respond as if they do recognize us.
Years ago, a friend shared her experience as a young woman while visiting her grandmother in a nursing home. As she was saying good bye, her grandmother expressed how much she enjoyed the visit and wanted to know who she was. She was so deeply offended she never visited her grandmother again.
At the time I also had many questions and did not have a good explanation for her grandmother’s reaction.
During visits with my mother she would often ask, “Did I marry? Did I have children?” I always hugged her, held her hand, and said, “Yes, Mom. You married. You had four daughters and I am your daughter. You were a wonderful mother.” She would smile, nod with relief in her eyes and say, “I thought so.”
If your loved one asks you who you are, don’t be offended—it really is a compliment. Your visit was so important they want to know who you are. Help out, be memory for your loved one, and answer the question.
Forgetting the Visit: While trying to help a family member schedule the best time to visit Mom, she asked, “What’s the point if she’s going to forget anyway?” This is a common and justifiable fear. We all know those with dementia who accuse loved ones of never visiting even though they come faithfully every day. I didn’t have a good answer for her, but did encourage her to visit Mom.
Years later, while reviewing journal articles for dementia care I read about a study done at Iowa City. The researchers measured the emotional mood of people with dementia before, during, and after a happy event. They observed joy from the activity persisted past their memory of it. Even if they could not say why they were happy, they still knew they were happy.
Rest assured, if your loved one forgets the declarative memories of your visit, the happiness you gave will remain long after your time there. You can make a difference with a simple visit. If your loved one accuses you of never visiting, don’t argue, smile, and let her know how happy you are to be visiting with her.
While it can seem our loved one will linger a long time with these slow-moving diseases, today is the day we have to give and receive love. She might not have tomorrow. After a busy day at work, I would stop by to see my mother. Some days, those were the most restful parts of my day as I sat with her and experienced moments with her.
Welcome to the blog page for Biblical Dementia Caregiving. It is a resource to come alongside as you walk the dementia journey with your loved one. My name is Dorothy Gable and I wish to help, encourage and share the lessons we learned caring for my mother with dementia. For more of my story, please see the About page in this website.