The worst thing you can do for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is allow them to spend too much idle time alone. It’s important to learn how to communicate with someone suffering from dementia and to include them in your daily life as much as possible. If you maintain open and frequent communication with their medical care providers, you will find that your loved one can enjoy many of the events that give meaning to your life.
Continuance & Familiar Objects
Try to talk to your loved one about items in their home that have sentimental meaning. It’s best to do this early on, but you can also watch to see which items they seem emotionally attached to at any stage. When your loved one moves into the home of a caregiver or a nursing facility, transfer as many of those items as possible into their new living environment. Also try to continue their daily routine as much as possible. This is the best thing you can do to give them a sense of purpose even when their life is changing in confusing ways.
Keep the Past Alive
The most meaningful parts of your life are established through memories. Dementia patients struggle to hold onto those memories, and that leads to a loss of meaning and a sense that their life has no purpose. You can help your loved one overcome this problem by ensuring their daily life has structure and that they have something to look forward to each day. Maybe it’s something as simple as sitting on the porch and listening to the birds sing every morning. You can also collect memories for your loved one and incorporate them into their day.
You can make this as simple as sitting down with your loved one to look at photo albums, or you can get more involved and create memory boxes that include a variety of memory-boosting items in addition to pictures. Make sure that you and others are available to discuss the memories that surface or to share memories of your own. When your loved one seems mentally transported to another place and time, go with them through conversation rather than trying to pull them back to reality.
From Then to Now
As you discuss memories with your loved one, you will start to learn about the things, people and circumstances that gave their life meaning in the past. Find ways to recreate those things in your loved one’s current life. For instance, if your mother once enjoyed cooking dinner for her grown children every Sunday, recreate family Sunday dinners. Allow your mother to help as much as she’s able, but simply being in the midst of this special event can give meaning to her life.
The Passage of Time
You may find that helping your loved one find a sense of purpose is easier in the early stages of dementia. While they look forward to those Sunday dinners and other meaningful events that you create for them in the early months or years, they may suddenly seem confused about what’s happening. They may even become irritated with so many people in their home. You can adjust by asking only a couple people to come to dinner each week, but with time, you may notice that it’s more for you than your loved one. They have simply forgotten the meaning.
Does this mean that your loved one will no longer have meaning in their life and you have to accept that? Not entirely. You can enjoy their good days and alert moments by talking about memories from their life or happy times in your own life. You can enjoy arts and crafts together or watch movies, creating new memories that you will hold close to your heart forever. Simply spending time with loved ones is often enough to give a sense of purpose in the later stages of dementia.