It can be hard to visit someone when it seems like they are slipping further away into their dementia, or losing their ability to communicate verbally. When it feels like you’re not making a difference and your visits aren’t remembered it’s understandable to begin to wonder if it’s even worth visiting at all. It is! Though people living with dementia may soon forget the details of your visit, they will be left with the emotional memory for far longer. The feeling of being loved, cared for, happy.
So how do we try and make our visits those which leave the person feeling loved, cared for and happy? How do we enable someone living with advanced dementia to enjoy the moment? Here are my top tips:
What were the interests and hobbies of the person? Did they like particular music, or art? What smells, tastes, sounds, touch and visual stimulation will bring enjoyment to them? Even people with very advanced dementia can experience enjoyment through the senses and it can create connections.
Sound - favourite music, singing, favourite TV/radio theme tunes. Poetry - old familiar poetry like The Owl and the Pussy Cat. The lady I visit loves Shakespeare’s sonnets. She can’t remember what she was doing half an hour ago but she can join in when I’m reading his sonnets to her. Perhaps it might be favourite verses from the Bible or the Lord's Prayer that brings them comfort and connection, or old hymns and sunday school songs.
Vision - photos of family, old holiday snaps, pictures of anything that the person with dementia would find stimulating. I visited a lady once who had very advanced dementia and it was impossible to hold a coherent conversation with her. But she mentioned to me that she liked a group of artist called the “Canadian Five”. With the help of google I printed off some paintings which I took the following week. We were able to have an amazing conversation as she talked about these pictures.
Smell - lavendar, rosemary, favourite perfumes or aftershaves. Take the person you are visiting for a walk in the care home garden - admire the sights and interact with the smells, especially if there are herbs growing in the garden.
Touch - the importance of caring touch can not be over estimated. You can learn to do a simple hand massage technique that can really bring connection between you are your loved one. Here’s a link.
There are so many other things to touch and feel. I once visited a lady who was bed bound with very advanced dementia and had visual impairment. I learned she used to be a seamstress and made beautiful wedding dresses, so I got some offcuts from our local bridal shop and she would spend ages touching and caressing them. (See photo) And how about bubble wrap? Who doesn’t enjoy a good pop of the bubbles?
Talking of bubbles - they can be a lot of fun - both blowing them and popping them. I spent time with a lady in a sensory session. She wasn’t interacting at all, just watching. She couldn’t even have a hand massage due to a condition of her hands. But when we started blowing bubbles and we put the bubble wand to her lips she blew and created her own bubbles. It was so special.
I’ve mentioned going outside but it’s worth repeating. Many people with dementia are living in a locked unit for the safety of residents. To be able to go outside can be so liberating - the fresh air, the flowers, the birds, the trees.
Art - painting, drawing and colouring. These are great in themselves and particularly good for people who have lost the ability to communicate verbally. I recently learned that the lady I visit used to draw horses so now each week I take in a sketch book and pencils for her to have a go.
A manicure - who doesn’t love a bit of pampering? A manicure isn’t just for ladies either - there are men who liked to be well groomed too. And combine it with a gentle hand massage for the ultimate enjoyment.
I have a bag now which I take to the care home every week. It has a basic manicure kit, a portable speaker, hand cream, a sketch book, photos, pictures and music on my phone. I can then offer different activities depending on the mood and fancy of the lady I visit. There are some weeks it doesn’t go that well, if she is having a particularly bad day, but more often than not it has enabled me to bring her a little enjoyment. Although I have been visiting for nearly two years I still have to introduce myself every week and I know she has no memory of my previous visit. And yet, I do sense that she knows me. At the very least she associates me with good feelings, and that for me, makes all worth while.