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She Didn't Even Know Me

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Caregiving Stress.jpegSierra was inconsolable. When she visited her mother at home, the frail elderly woman did not even recognize her own daughter. Even though she understood that her mom suffered from dementia, the anguish of the incident brought the young woman to her knees, crying and sobbing. To her, there was nothing more heart-breaking than when the person with whom she shared the longest and most loving relationship in her life, did not even recognize her face after bending down to say, “I love you, Mom.” 

Fortunately, there are proactive strategies to help Sierra and other families cope with and handle these situations – and maybe even get some unexpected surprises along the way. 

It may be small comfort, and is certainly easier said than done, but families should realize that their loved one is suffering from a serious degenerative brain disease and one of the primary symptoms is a failing memory. In other words, it is not personal when they do not recognize a familiar face. That knowledge makes it easier to avoid hurt feelings and cope with the situation with some objectivity. 

Being creative and using one's imagination is always helpful in these kinds of situations. When dealing with someone who has dementia, having a toolbox of innovative strategies is essential. One idea is to create a “memory box” for the family member with different trinkets and personal items that may jog their memory – such as a pair of baby booties, a treasured book, an old apron, a favourite piece of jewellery, and old magazine. For a father, you could put in an old fishing rod, a favourite pair of cuff-links, or an old shaving brush. These items may just be the spark that jogs their memory, helping them remember special times in the past with family. Then by helping them to connect some of these tangible items from the past with the person sitting in front of them, the beloved parent could suddenly regain their visual memory. 

Photographs and videos effectively help people relive their past, like seeing their story in a mental movie. Adult children can prepare for a visit with an aging parent armed with photos of themselves, recent and historical, within family pictures with Mom and Dad. When the loved one with dementia sees their son or daughter in person plus in a familiar photo, they may connect the dots. Having a colourful name tag and saying one's name aloud as the photos are shown, could be a very helpful catalyst in recognizing their precious child. Seeing their face light up like a candle when they suddenly remember is a huge reward in itself. 

We know from research that it is possible to traverse the fog and connect with someone with Alzheimer's and other dementias. Music has been used successfully to awaken the person within. It is highly likely that other forms of creative expression can achieve the same result. Sometimes it requires a little coaxing, a little faith, and maybe the occasional miracle. 

With love and patience, all things are possible!


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