Incorporate the five senses into your activities
“Listening to a familiar song, tasting something sweet, touching a pet, or watching something bright and colorful takes the expectation of the past out of the equation and allows new memories with positive emotional connections to form,” says Hornthal. “As humans we crave affection and touch, so don’t hesitate to lend your loved one a hand to hold. If he reaches out and grabs your hand, an immediate emotional connection is created.” Just remember to take your cues from the person with Alzheimer’s disease and never force touch where it might not be warranted. As the disease progresses, you may find that using touch more frequently than words helps keep the relationship strong. “Most people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease are only being touched for hygiene, medical exams, etc., so holding hands in an intimate, appropriate way, like brushing their hair or giving them a massage or manicure, are easy ways to connect without words.”
Stick to living in the moment
Taking the moment for what it is and the individual for who she or he is takes away assumptions and expectations and allows for genuine connection. Try and avoid initiating “normal” conversations with a loved one who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. “Asking Mom how her day went or asking your friend what she had for lunch can be very frustrating for both you and the patient, as she might try and answer your question but not have the right words, or get angry that you’re asking her questions that make her feel inadequate,” says FitzPatrick.
Allow yourself to feel your own emotions
istock/Eva Katalin Kondoros
Times will get tough and you will get frustrated, but remember that the person living with Alzheimer’s is feeling those emotions as well. “Practicing patience will allow you to remain calm and relaxed, which leads to a greater ability to connect emotionally,” says Hornthal. “If you feel like you’re losing your cool, take deep breaths or excuse yourself for a brief walk around the hall or block. Taking repeated trips down memory lane and constantly facing the stark reality that your loved one is seemingly slipping away from you emotionally when he or she is with you physically takes its toll. “Many times families visit around meals or going out for treats, which not only helps shorten or stagger the visits, but ensures that the patient maintains blood sugar and energy levels,” says Atwood. And remember that you’re only human, and are doing the best you can do for your loved one. “Accepting your emotions and expressing them appropriately, even in the presence of your loved one, allows them the chance to connect with you in those emotions,” says Hornthal. “Furthermore, it may allow the individual with Alzheimer’s to care for you, which not only facilitates emotional connection, but also makes them feel useful, helpful and needed.”