Medicine today is so driven by technology and pharmacology, we too often overlook the ways we can ease pain and improve quality of life through simple therapies based on love, compassion, respect, and dignity.
The field of dementia care is an area where compassion can get better results than the use of drugs. This is because the organs in our brain that govern our emotions – the amygdalae – survive and continue to function long after dementia has ravaged the “thinking” parts of our brain.
Consequently, the “feeling” part of our brain can be the last and only tool a care partner has to work with. We can do this with simple therapies that have been known and used for decades; in some cases even for centuries. They include:
Nostalgia Therapy – It is not uncommon for individuals living with dementia to lose their recent memories, but be able to retain recollection of an earlier time in their life. Sometimes, they “go there” and seem to live in that earlier time. This should not be dismissed as “delusion;” rather it should be recognized as a valuable tool for effective care. Use nostalgic artifacts and reminiscence about their past life to validate the reality that seems to give them comfort.
Hug Therapy –Hugs are proven to work, especially for people living with brain disorders, but many of our care partners don’t practice it enough. I saw it work with my husband Albert, so effectively that he was removed entirely from mood-altering medication.
Music Therapy – Music Therapy is another proven non-medical therapy that can work wonders. Similar to Nostalgia Therapy, it seems to work best when we choose music that our loved one enjoyed between the ages of eight and 20. To see just how effective it is, go to YouTube and watch “Alive Inside.”
Doll Therapy – Many times, a soft doll will become the constant companion of a person living with dementia, especially women. It seems to give them comfort and a sense of purpose. Some people think an older person holding a doll is “demeaning.” I don’t agree. If it gives your loved one comfort, it is not demeaning. There’s a lesson here. We, as care partners, must sometimes put our own opinions and feelings aside in favor of how something makes our loved one feel.
Animal Therapy – No need to say much about this! Who doesn’t love a puppy or a kitty? Many memory care communities maintain “house pets” because they know how much their residents enjoy and love them.
Plant Therapy – Even people in later stages of dementia can love the beauty of plants. However, if they are able, you may want to ask your person to help you tend your plants. Sure, they may make a little mess, but working in soil can give them long periods of joy and comfort.
These and other simple and time-tested therapies are very effective for individuals living with dementia. This is because, long after they seem to have lost the ability to think and reason, they still retain the ability to “feel.”
Until next time remember: “We all deserve the Best”
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