My Mom and Dad
- Do you really dislike the feeling of water on your face?
- Do you hate sudden loud noises?
- Do you, like me, dislike the smell of strong perfume?
- Does having your feet touched creep you out?
Our senses create our stories.
Life is a sensory experience. We file memories as sights, smells, sounds, sensations, and tastes. Our senses give us the information we need so we know how to react to our environment (how high to step, how far to reach, how to balance, etc.).
As we age, we all develop preferences for certain kinds of sensory information and dislikes for others. We base our habits and preferences based, in part, on this. For instance, you may prefer bright vibrant colors, and your sister may prefer pastels. (Now you know why she painted her house lavender.) But as we age, our sensory efficiency declines, and we become less able to know how to react to our environment. Unfortunately, many caregivers don’t understand the importance of sensory loss in dementia.
Dementia in its many forms shrinks sensory functioning beyond the normal decline of aging.
For instance, you’ll see my mother in the picture above. She was born with severe vision problems and had many corrective eye surgeries over the course of her life. As an adult, her vision was always poor. As she aged, it became worse. With the challenges of Alzheimer’s, life became very confusing for Mom. Although she couldn’t put it into words, we discerned that she had difficulty making sense of her surroundings. Alzheimer’s experts tell us that Alzheimer’s patients often have difficulty interpreting their surroundings and even have hallucinations.
So how can you create a more comfortable life for your loved one with dementia?
Become an expert in reading your loved one’s
verbal and their body language.
What are their likes and dislikes? For instance, I knew my mother feared going from wide spaces into narrow spaces, for instance from the living room down the hallway. Something about wide to narrow or perhaps light to darker appeared frightening to her. She would throw her body backwards and fight moving forward.
- Know your loved ones preferences.
Do they prefer a bright environment or dark environment?
Do they find mirrors confusing?
Do certain colors soothe them? Stimulate them?
Do they seek or avoid music, the radio, conversation, and other auditory stimulation, etc.?
Do they enjoy or tolerate touch from those they are close to?
What kind of food do they like and dislike: spicy, sour, salty, sweet, cold, hot, crunchy, chewy, textures? (TIP: Expect these to change over the course of the illness.)
Do they enjoy scents and aromas or avoid them?
Do enjoy feeling textures?
Are they stimulated by books? Music? Children? Dolls or stuffed animals? Gardening? Coloring? Cooking? Singing?
Are they soothed by books? Music? Children? Dolls or stuffed animals? Gardening? Coloring? Cooking? Singing?
What kind of interpersonal contact is most effective with your loved one? (TIP: Tone of voice and eye contact are the two most important elements of communicating with a loved one with dementia. Speak slowly in an even, loving tone, choosing simple words. DON’T ARGUE OR TRY TO REASON. Communicate empathy and try to divert to another activity.
2. Create visual contrasts to help increase perception.
If everything in your bathroom is one color, put a contrasting color lid on the toilet seat.
Paint the doors of their bedroom and the bathroom a contrasting color from other doors in the house to help them find their room. (TIP: Those with dementia may increasingly find blues, greens and purples harder to differentiate.)
Paint handrails a contrasting color to walls.
Use plates that contrast with the color of the food.
Avoid dark rugs, which can look like holes in the ground (and also create trip hazards).
Avoid patterned floor coverings and know that striped pavement, square tiles, and changing floor patterns can cause confusion and disorientation, as well as revolving doors, escalators, or fast wheelchair rides.
Above all, love them by investing the time
to truly know them.
In seemingly insignificant moments we learn to read the intake of breath that unmasks hidden pain. The narrowed eyes that reveal fear. The knit brow that communicates confusion. As time progresses, your loved one will need you even more to help them see, feel, hear, taste, and touch their world.
Your caregiving will be one of the most loving,
Christlike tasks you will ever accomplish.
What accommodations have you made for your loved one?