Incorporate the arts into your interactions
Studies show that using the arts can bypass certain effects of Alzheimer’s, enhance communication and emotional connection, as well as create new pathways in the brain with which to access memories. “Music, in particular, is very calming and can lift the spirit of a person with Alzheimer’s,” says Yuval Malinsky, CEO at Vigorous Mind, Inc., an organization that helps dementia patients communicate with their family and friends. “Play him or her music or musicals that you know makes them happy or evokes positive feelings and memories.” And don’t hesitate to sing along—even if it feels silly. It often surprises family and friends that the patient with Alzheimer’s or dementia may still be able to sing even if she can’t talk. “When the activities you previously enjoyed together become increasingly difficult, you may have to adapt the activity or explore new ones,” says Holbrook. The person with dementia is becoming more reliant on experience rather than words for connection—and touch is very effective. As certain activities become less available, simply replace them with new ones. Listening to music together, going to the movie theater, or exploring the community garden are great lower-key activities that can have you chatting without relying on past experiences to keep the conversation rolling.
Create a list of joys
Favorite books, songs, foods, holidays, pets, vacation destinations, etc., all provide wonderful topics for reminiscing and help you both remember what makes you smile together. Share photos and look at pictures together to remind them of the time captured in the images. “Long-term memories tend to survive longer than short term ones, so start telling them a story from long ago that involves them,” suggests Tracey Lawrence, founder of Grand Family Planning LLC. “Ask them to join in with details, but don’t be too persistent, as sometimes they may remember but have trouble understanding what you say to them.” Favorite movies or TV shows are also a great way to connect, especially when they involve some humor. Here’s how nostalgic thoughts boost happiness.
Be mindful of your body language and facial expressions
iStock/Alessandro Di Noia
Position and space in relation to your loved one has a lot to do with emotional connection. “Joining an individual on their eye level—sitting down, standing up, or even lying down—shows the person that he or she is respected by you and can trust you,” says Erica Hornthal, a psychotherapist specializing in cognitive disorders and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy. “Remember you want to see eye-to-eye with this person to help them feel supported and validated.” While it’s undoubtedly difficult, given the circumstances and your loved one’s condition, try and smile. “Your loved one is not able to understand much of what you’re saying, but he can read into your body language and facial expressions,” says FitzPatrick. “Even if he doesn’t recognize you specifically, he will recognize and respond best to a friendly face.” Here are 8 ways to use body language to build trust.