With over 200 blogs on D4Dementia now, some of them approaching 7 years old in May this year, I’ve decided to spend my 2019 year of blogging by re-visiting some of the topics I’ve covered previously, throwing fresh light on why they remain relevant, and updating them with some of my more recent experiences. This month, I want to look at love.
I finished my January 2019 blog with a quote that talked about how a person who is struggling to express themselves, perhaps because of their dementia, is:
“Ultimately looking for understanding, appreciation and love.”
Of course that could be said for all of us regardless of the circumstances surrounding our health, but a diagnosis of dementia brings the importance of love and expressing love into an even sharper focus, as I described in my 2014 blog, ‘Amour’:
“Dementia taught me to tell my dad I loved him every time I saw him. I say dementia taught me because a diagnosis of a terminal disease makes it imperative that you make the most of every moment. There isn’t time to be bashful – you will have a long time to regret what you didn’t have the courage to say or do.”
But that isn’t to say it’s always easy to express love or feel love when dementia is part of life. Last year I met a lady who very candidly spoke about her relationship with her mother, who is living with dementia, saying that she found it very hard to love her mother now.
Many people might harshly judge this lady for a comment like that, but on further exploration it was clear it was a remark that came from a place of immense love and a longing for that love to be reciprocated. The lady felt bereft because of her perception that her mother didn’t love her, but when we reflected on her time with her mother, it became clear that she was missing very subtle signs of her mother’s love, purely because they weren’t the obvious expressions of it that she’d been used to her whole life.
This lady viewed the changes in her mother only through a negative lens. She spoke about her mother’s repetitive speech, her lack of interest in previous hobbies, how she no longer wanted to eat foods she’d always enjoyed and how she constantly walked, making her daughter feel that she just wanted to get away from her.
But we found a flip side to this. The repetitive speech was an opportunity for the lady to reinforce the information her mother needed, and that could come from a place of love if she realised the trust her mother was placing in her to provide that information in a calm and consistent way.
The lack of enthusiasm for previous hobbies could be interpreted as an opportunity to try new things, finding common interests that they could enjoy together, and likewise with trying new foods. We also talked about walking, and the joy that could be found in walking together, exploring the environment and taking notice of the details around them, something that is known to be very good for improving wellbeing.
Like many people, this daughter saw her mother’s walking through the negative concept of wandering (not a phrase I like or agree with), which is a topic I wrote about in my 2012 blog ‘Going Places’:
“Wandering suggests aimless moving from place to place without any clear objective, but that is not the case in people with dementia. . It may be a world from their childhood or their years as a youthful adult, it may be a happy place or a sad and worrying place. Wherever it is and whatever the circumstances, the person with dementia may well feel compelled to do certain things, and have great purpose and direction in doing them, however fleeting that may be.”
For this lady’s mother, walking was something she needed and wanted to do, not something to be in any way suppressed as her daughter thought it perhaps should be. Supporting someone you love to do something that they love is in itself an act of love. Not one with big declarations or fancy ribbons attached, but one that is far more meaningful when you consider that many people who are living with dementia and want to do things like walking are prevented, sometimes forcibly, from doing so.
I think, and hope, that I helped this lady to find a different perspective to the one of desolation and isolation that she was feeling. Accepting that dementia sometimes changes our perception of loving and being loved is a tough realisation, but it is one that provides a degree of peace, and sometimes even hope – hope that you can still have those moments of connection with the person you love, however fleeting those moments may be, and feel that surge of emotion that only love can give you.