“Even though someone living with Alzheimer’s may not know your name, they still know you as love.”
This core value of mine is something I both embrace and believe should become an important element for all healthcare workers in the memory care industry to use in their care programs and practices. Individuals living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia will always know those who care for them as love, regardless of how they are addressed by others.
In the world of Alzheimer’s education, memory care providers need to lead the way in educating caregivers how their roles and relationships with their loved ones will change throughout disease progression. We need to understand how relationship dynamics change for caregivers and their loved ones. Additionally, we can encourage them to focus on surpassing the disease, disorder or ailment by focusing on the one feeling that can trump everything else – love.
I have been involved in specialized memory care for more than 30 years. Whether I was acting as an Eldercare Advocate in geriatrics or providing my expertise to state agencies, the one constant I was able to offer was helping caregivers understand their loved ones by seeing them not as living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, but as love.
Our dedicated team at Autumn Leaves specializes in providing a loving, home-like environment. That is sustained through a few practical tips we use that will assist any caregiver to increase harmony and decrease anxiety, frustration and exasperation.
- Make love active – Love is a part of life from the time we are born, so when someone’s memory begins to fade, he or she needs love more than ever. A dedicated in-house life enrichment coordinator that will manage events, activities and enrichment opportunities on an ongoing basis in conjunction with specialized personal care, life enrichment and other dedicated activity programs are necessary for any memory care community.
- Make love interactive – Even though a resident may not remember your name, he or she still remembers how to communicate. Don’t push too strongly, but be consistent in your communication. Maintain eye contact and use nonverbal cues that will help the resident feel they are part of the conversation, rather than simply observing one.
- Make love available – In our specialized communities, we have found by acting as guests in their home, our residents are more open to sharing, being and communicating with our staff. They see love provided to them in a secure and safe home environment where they are free to do what they want, leaving them available to focus on the emotional bonds they feel with family, other residents and caregiving staff around them.
- Make love personal – A person’s home should be the most comforting part of a person’s life. With Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, residents may be in a different place mentally, but the emotions attached to a home will always remain. Get to know your loved one’s timeline, his or her likes and dislikes, passions and hobbies. Understand what gives them peace, and then become the provider of that peace.
Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia is simply a new chapter of love in anyone’s book of life. That chapter will include multiple characters, including the loved one living with dementia, their caregivers and other family members. Learning how to personify love to those in need of memory care, can help them better relate to you because you become that feeling love, which can stand out above all other feelings or fears.
Charles Dickens once wrote, “Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” That is memory care. Our residents need patience, understanding, personal care and a heart that is always able to communicate, even if words fail.
Words often fail when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, but it is often said that, “Love never fails.”
Memory care needs to become that place where love never fails. Even if your name is not spoken, your love will be felt and your care will make a difference.
About Jane Anderson, RN
Prior to co-founding Autumn Leaves, Jane was instrumental in establishing a memory care division for Alterra Healthcare Corporation, a leading dementia care provider. Her career in healthcare has focused on neurological impairment, dementia care, hospice care, HIV/AIDS treatment and oncology. She has served on numerous committees that have focused on aging and Alzheimer’s and has won awards for her work with dementia, cancer and HIV patients. Jane is a graduate of Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing and is a Registered Nurse (RN). Additionally, she holds Oncology Nursing Certification (OCN®) and hematology certification and is a Certified Registered Nurse Infusionist (CRNI). Jane currently lives in McKinney, Texas.