By Claire M. Lambert Gosselin
Orignially published in The Times Record, Friday, November 26, 2010
It’s long past summer, but there are yellow roses blooming in Harpswell near Curtis Cove in the yard of The Vicarage by the Sea, where Henry now resides.
Yellow roses are considered a symbol of friendship, and a way to bring a little sunshine to someone whose life has become a bit cloudy.
Discovering these bright blooms, persistent against the graying of November, made me smile. When the fog of Alzheimer’s inevitably thickened around my husband’s mind, I found The Vicarage.
It is a small, residential, homelike care facility specializing in dementia. Its wholistic philosophy “seeks to enrich the quality of life of each individual, offering a holistic environment which emcompasses elders, their families, the community, and the natural world around us.” It also provides “aging in place,” including hospice.
Unlike larger facilities, no doors are locked. This was so important to me for my Henry. The staff to resident ratio is four to one, so if perchance a resident should wander outside, a staff member simply accompanies him.
Henry has a vew of the ocean, a wooded road to walk on, home-cooked meals, his own bedroom, and people to engage him and meet his needs. It’s the best we could do in a tough situtation.
Now that my attention has turned from caregiving to visiting, I’ve done a little research on spending quality time with a loved one who has dementia. Perhaps these tips will encourage my readers to visit someone they know who is in Henry’s situation, especially now that the holidays are here.
Be relaxed, be yourselft and wear a warm smile. Make eye contact and tell the person who you are and what your relationship to them is.
Don’t ask them questions. Give them news of the family, but don’t discuss current events. Instead, tell the person stories from your past time together. For example, “One time we went sailing together and we ran into trouble, etc., etc.” Note, I didn’t begin with “Remember the time…..” because he won’t. Use plain words and short sentences without being condescending.
Props, such as photographs, might help engage the person. Eating lunch with them at the facility is another way to pass time.
People with dementia somtimes fill in their memory gaps inaccurately. They’re not lying, and there’s no need to correct them. It’s better to stay in the moment with them.
Visit earlier in the day, when they might be functioning better. Around 3 or 4 p.m. a phenomenon called “sundowning” begins, increasing their confusion.
You can’t predict what state the person you are visiting will be in. He or she could be calm and present and welcome you, or distracted and agitated and unable to engage. You can adjust the length of your stay accordingly.
After the visit, don’t judge how it went. It’s not about success or failure. It’s about being present to our loved ones as best we can for a while – even if they won’t remember it after we’ve left.
I keep a journal for Henry at The Vicarage, and the staff supports me in this. We record the date and names of his visitors and also any cards and letters he gets in the mail. When Henry reads it, he is reminded that the people who care most about him are still in his life.
With very little effort, each of us can become a yellow rose for those who are in the November of their lives.
On the net: www.thevicaragebythesea.com