Forget me not – being there for your spouse with memory loss

February is the month of love, Valentine’s Day sees many partners spending the day together reminiscing over past memories and cherishing moments they want to remember forever. Our thoughts turn to those loving partners and spouses who care for someone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Watching your loved one slowly forget who you are is heartbreaking, especially when knowing that they will never make a complete turnaround. At this point a lot of spouses and partners start to question whether there is any point in them visiting, which is understandable as it can be a very emotionally taxing experience to visit a loved one who no longer recognises you. The answer is, unequivocally, yes.

 

Your loved one CAN feel your love

In a study conducted by the University of Iowa, published in the journal of Cognitive and Behavioural Neurology, it was shown that the caregivers have an enormous influence (either good or bad) on the emotional well-being of the person who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The study showed that the effects of a visit or interaction with a loved one had a lasting impact on the way they felt. 

To further ascertain whether memory impaired people could experience emotions as we understand them, the researchers showed individuals with Alzheimer’s disease a series of clips of both sad and happy movies. Despite not being able to remember what they had just watched, they still had long lasting lingering feelings as a result. “This confirms that the emotional life of an Alzheimer’s patient is alive and well,” said lead author Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, who conducted the study with Daniel Tranel, University of Iowa professor of neurology and psychology, and Justin Feinstein, assistant professor at the University of Tulsa and the Laureate Institute for Brain Research.

 

It’s not easy, but it is worth it

Basically what this proves is that firstly, they still have the ability to feel love emotionally, and secondly (and most importantly) they need love. “Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions really do matter,” says Guzmán-Vélez. “Frequent visits and social interactions, exercise, music, dance, jokes, and serving patients their favorite foods are all simple things that can have a lasting emotional impact on a patient’s quality of life and subjective well-being.”

Loving someone who has dementia is not easy, they are often not themselves and it can be difficult to see them the same way and feel the same way about them as you did before their cognitive decline. However, there are a number of ways that you can still interact with them that do not require memory, for example you could visit a museum or take a walk in a park.

 

The Four R’s

If you find a day that is particularly challenging, as there will be difficult days – keep reminding yourself that he or she has an illness, to preserve your patience, and then remember the Four R’s:

  1. Reassure: If your loved one seems agitated or frustrated, keep letting them know that everything is okay – even if you have to repeat yourself many times.
  2. Reconsider: Try to see things from the patient’s point of view. It can be extremely frustrating to answer the same question a 100 times, but once again it is not them but the disease that causes it.
  3. Redirect: If the patient is acting irritable or aggressive, direct them into another room or change the activity. Remove them from whatever is frustrating them or causing stress.
  4. Relax: Use your body language and tone of voice to calm your loved one, they will often ‘feed’ off the response from others. So if you are getting annoyed, more than likely they will pick up on it and reciprocate.

Spouses often do the most when it comes to the primary care, as they are often the first to notice the initial symptoms, they go along to every medical appointment, and they work closely with healthcare professionals to ensure the health and well-being of their loved ones. Some spouses move on to find love again, while still visiting and caring for their loved one. And even though they may not be able to connect with their partners in the same old way, new patterns may evolve but the love is still very much there and it really shows!

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Since 2011, the Livewell Group has been at the forefront of dementia and Alzheimer’s care in South Africa. We are motivated by a personal and heartfelt concern for the dignity and care of our elders and our efforts continue to be encouraged by the strong market need for specialised individual care.

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