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Developing Meaningful Relationships with a Loved One Who Has Dementia

Caregiver interacting with dementia patients

The symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss and diminished function. These factors can greatly affect a person’s ability to interact with others. If you have a loved one who’s living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it can seem difficult to maintain an emotional connection, especially as symptoms progress over time.

But there are ways to develop meaningful relationships with people who are living with dementia. Even though interactive conversations, errands, and some other activities may no longer be possible, there are still ways to engage with people who are experiencing memory loss.

Emotional interaction is important for people living with dementia and for the people who care about them. Here are some ways to maintain a connection.

Time Together Is Always Meaningful

People living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to show their emotions in daily life as clearly as they once could, but those feelings are still there. Long-term memories and the feelings they evoke are as important to them as they are for anyone, maybe even more so.

It’s likely you know your loved one’s preferences and favorite memories. You can recreate those experiences and trigger those happy feelings. Maybe your loved one enjoyed gardening and being around flowers. Sitting in the yard among some flowers can be a wonderfully evocative experience. The beautiful sights and smells of the outdoors can have a positive and calming effect.

Physical touch is also important. Holding hands or brushing hair while listening to music, sitting in the sunlight, or watching a favorite television show can create meaningful time together and help you to keep developing a meaningful relationship.

Plan Ahead to Bring the Fun

If your loved one enjoyed reading the newspaper or poetry, or has a favorite writing genre, you can bring material to read to them. Do they have favorite stories you can revisit together? Listening to those stories can be deeply satisfying. 

Even just hearing your voice as you recall memories like vacations, celebrations and holidays can be enjoyable. Give them updates on other loved ones like grandchildren. These sorts of moments will be emotionally satisfying for you, too.

A music player or video device can help create meaningful time together. Music can be a positive emotional trigger for anyone, and that’s especially true for those living with dementia. Music is also a great way to spend time together without feeling like you have to be talking for an entire visit.

Bring Someone Else Along

You don’t always have to be the only one talking. A great way to involve a loved one with dementia in a conversation even if they can’t actively participate is to have the conversation with someone else. Simply talking back and forth with your loved one sitting with you allows them to experience the interaction for themselves. 

Remember Their Hobbies

You know how your loved one liked to spend their time before their memory problems and symptoms of dementia started to limit their daily life. You can still involve them in activities they enjoy. Did they knit or sew? Did they play cards or draw? Presenting them with these items and enjoying the activity with them can be a positive experience.

Having them in the kitchen while you cook can be a great activity. Talking through a recipe while you’re creating the sights, sounds and scents of a favorite dish can keep you actively developing a meaningful relationship.

Create New Hobbies

There are also an ever-increasing number of activities available to people who are living with memory problems. From puzzles to games to art projects, there are many items to choose from to bring with you for spending your time together.

It’s important that any activities you engage in with your loved one who’s living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease be age appropriate. Many activities that are geared toward people with memory problems would be considered simple to others. But don’t present your loved one with a child’s game. They may find it undignified. You can find plenty of age-appropriate activity gifts for people with memory problems online.

Everyday Tasks Can Also Be Enjoyable

If your loved one with dementia receives professional care at home, or in a memory care community, they’re likely getting help with the tasks of daily life such as dressing, grooming and eating. A caring professional takes the burden of primary care away from a family member. This is an important and positive step for the entire family in the process of dealing with cognitive decline of a loved one.

When you’re present, you can create positive and meaningful moments by simply helping your loved one complete some of these tasks. Helping them choose an outfit, and to be clean and groomed, will help them feel comfortable and dignified, and you’ll be creating yet another bonding experience.

Let Them Know You’re Happy to Be There

Even with the memory problems and other limitations associated with dementia, your loved one will notice if you’re not in a particularly good mood. Part of developing your meaningful relationship is making it clear that you’re enjoying your time together as much as they are.

If you’re feeling too physically or emotionally exhausted to be good company, you might consider waiting to visit until you’re feeling more up to it. It’s perfectly normal to need time to focus on your own self-care. Be aware of how you’re feeling because they’ll be aware, too.

Memory Care by Heritage Senior Living

The memory care communities at Heritage provide specialized attention to those who are living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Skilled and caring professionals make sure the needs of each individual resident are met and their lives enriched, while paying special attention to comfort and dignity. 

If you’d like to learn how Heritage makes life meaningful for your loved one and more about our new MapHabit memory care program, contact us.