Seeing a person with later dementia can create feelings of sadness, especially when they are residents in nursing homes. Within closed dementia wards, people in later stages are usually seen in chairs slumped over, staring into space with their mouths hanging open or asleep. Their ability to speak has often been reduced to guttural sounds and they’re seemingly unaware of anything around them.
In those beginning months of working with those with dementia, my heart went out to these particular individuals. I couldn’t help feeling saddened by the perception their bodies existed but their minds were gone. Gone where, I wanted to know. Nobody home was the general perception but I knew that couldn’t be true.
For years I had conducted self-help workshops on raising human consciousness with the mainstream public. So, in my heart I knew there was more to the human being than just our brain generated thoughts and that meager 5% of our conscious mind we use every day.
We are a holistic organism made up of mind, body and spirit. The body is something that eventually deteriorates but is the mind a just part of brain function; could consciousness exist beyond brain generated thought? And if the spirit is energy and energy can’t be destroyed what happens to their spirit in late dementia?
Two decades ago, I developed a picture communication technique together with the local Alzheimer’s Association, we trained caregivers throughout our tri-county area. We also conducted classes with the family acting as companions with their loved one; including those in the seemingly non-responsive stages.
Having the full attention of another person, especially one who cares for them, and listening to that person talk about the pictures they were pointing out in the magazine enabled the person with dementia to focus and find a way back to this world even for just a short time. It was amazing to see lights come on in eyes that had only held blank stares before.
What was more amazing was how the families recognized the pictures chosen by their loved ones seemed related to their prior lives. Several remarked how they hadn’t thought the person was still there or that they retained any memories at all.
For years people have used music and it often has worked wonders with late dementia and soft touch and the soothing sound of a caring voice can be a calm in the storm. Even if they still seem confused or don’t look like they’re responding understand they are aware of you being with them.
There are other ways to engage a person in later stages of dementia but the first and most important step is to believe they are still with us. Know in your heart that the human spirit can never be lost.