Reconnecting with a Loved One with Dementia

March 03, 2021

Spring is coming; a time of possibility and growth. It offers us a moment to reflect and make changes in our lives for the coming year. We all fall into roles and ruts without noticing, but we don’t have to stay there. Now is a good time to look at your relationship roles and assess how you feel about them.

Often the role of “caregiver” starts to overshadow the past roles that you’ve had in your relationship with your loved one. You may feel some resentment if you didn’t ask to take on this role, or if it’s harder than you expected. Does your current role of being a caregiver significantly outweigh the other parts of your relationship with your loved one? 

If so, take a moment to think about the different relationship roles you have had with that person throughout your life. Are you their spouse? Daughter? Brother? Do you miss connecting on that level rather than in a caregiver/care-receiver relationship? 

Let’s look at some options for re-focusing your relationship with your loved one. I’ve compiled some activities to explore which can help you reconnect. 

Before you begin an activity, decrease the distractions around you for a more successful experience (turn off the TV or radio, reduce the foot traffic in and out of the room, ensure you are both comfortable). Also, ensure eyeglasses and hearing aids are on, if applicable.

    • Listen to music from the past that is special to both of you. Music taps into long-term memory. You might end up singing along or even dancing in your chairs - or on your feet! For more on the power of music with someone with dementia, here’s a lovely article written by a nurse/caregiver on the topic. 
    • Participate in an activity you both enjoy. It’s trickier during COVID, but there are plenty of online opportunities for engagement geared towards those with dementia. Meet Me at MoMA offers online art experiences for those with cognitive loss. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America has recently launched The Teal Room with a long list of virtual activities. Or you could tune into virtual concerts by renowned groups like the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center or the San Francisco SymphonyCarnegie Hall offers live-streaming events as well.
    • Look through an old photo album together and reminisce about your travels or special memories. During this activity, please avoid quizzing your loved one about whether they recognize the photos because this will create a stressful dynamic. Prompt them by speaking about your own memories of the event, and if the conversation weaves into another theme entirely, that’s just fine! Feel free to ask open-ended, low-pressure questions about the photos. For example:  “Do you enjoy spending time at the ocean? Would you rather be on the beach or in the mountains? Why is that? What would you do there?” The important part is the connection you’re making together, not whether they remember a specific event.
    • Ask your loved one for advice. It’s so simple, but it shows that you still value your loved one’s feedback and wisdom. When someone needs help all day, that person may feel less agency in their own life. Asking for their support can rekindle feelings of self-worth. It recognizes that person is more than simply a person who needs care.
    • Enjoy a favorite meal together. The comforting smells and tastes of a favorite meal can stimulate memories. You could chat about special meals you’ve enjoyed in the past, but avoid quizzing about whether they remember it the way you do. Or, for a fun new way to get to know each other, pose some fun questions that can lead to unexpected conversations. The Family Dinner Project has some great ideas for unique conversation- starters here: 
    • Find support for yourself, so you can be more present when you’re with your loved one. If you have an outlet to vent or connect with others in similar situations, you may have more patience during your days with your loved one. There are phone-based support groups through several local agencies, including Caring Kind, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, and the Alzheimer’s Association. Each has a helpline you can call to inquire about their services. If you’re feeling particularly stressed, you could also seek out support through a therapist. Many therapists are now offering virtual visits. The New York Times has compiled a list of recommended online therapy services you can try for yourself. 

Do you have ideas to add to this list? I would love to hear other ways you’ve successfully reconnected with your loved one in the comment section below.

And please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need an extra pair of hands to lighten the load—we are here to support you.

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