Spreading love, joy, peace, faith & unity

Speaking to Dementia

Communicating with Loved Ones

How do you speak – especially during social distancing – with a loved one who has dementia?

My sister, Sally, has dementia. She lives in a Masonic Home less than five minutes from her daughter, Jodie. It’s in Pennsylvania – a loooong ways from me in Montana! But, even though they are close, in today’s pandemic world, Jodie can’t go to visit her. Sally is on the second floor of the care facility and when Jodie drives to see her, she is not even allowed out of her car. They just have to wave to one another out their windows.

I am sure that is a very smart safety precaution on the part of the Masonic Home. Jodie just tested positive for the virus last week! Now she is in quarantine for two weeks.

Finding Assistance

On Sunday I had my first ZOOM meeting with my sis. Rochelle, the Activities Director facilitated the meeting. Sally was basically non-responsive, so it was hard to know what to say. Rochelle repeated my comments to be sure Sally heard, but even then I barely got a nod most of the time. Still, it was good to see her.

Do You Relate?

Do you have a parent or sibling, a neighbor or friend with dementia? If so, you know what I mean. You’ve been in my shoes, and you long to be up close and personal with your loved one so you can look into each other’s eyes and make real connections.

Here are Bob and me with my sis, Sally, and her husband, Dave, waaaay back in the days of flat-tops, skinny ties and thighs, and 3″ heels! It must have been Easter … we’re all decked out. I will send her this photo. Dave died of a massive heart-attack more than 20 years ago. Pictures are an important way to tap into memories.

Using Technology to Tap Memories

I took my laptop out on the porch and showed Sally our scene of the mountains. I reminded her of the Thanksgivings we have spent together here sitting on the porch (or looking out this window), enjoying that view. Still, no change of facial expression and no words. Maybe it’s because the ground and mountains are often snow-covered in November!

Our view from the deck
View from back porch

Don’t Give Up – Keep Trying!

I talked about our times together at various Thanksgivings around the dining room table and showed her that scene. She has visited us in November at least ten years in a row before she needed to go to assisted living and wisely chose to be near her daughter and grandson.

I reminded her of Gloria, our friend who joined us one Thanksgiving.
She nodded as if she remembered Gloria.
I reminded her of other meal times the two of us have had together.
No response… but a picture is worth a thousand words.
I will send this one to her.

Reach Way Back

Reaching back into the cobwebs of my brain, I remembered us as young girls sitting on our grandmother’s porch, reaching out into the “weeds” and finding stalks of sweet anise, breaking them off, and munching on them like you might snack on a stalk of celery.

Actually, I still love to munch on sweet anise. I remembered I have some in the refrigerator. So, I went with my laptop over to the kitchen. I opened the fridge and asked Sally if she remembered sitting on Grandma’s porch, nibbling on this while we waited for mom to come and get us after school.

When I showed her the sweet anise (commonly known today as fennel), I got my first real smile from her. She nodded. Ah, folks, smells and food are great memory triggers!!

Do you know this bulb?
Fennel or sweet anise tastes like
celery flavored with black licorice.

The greatest trigger for memory when you are visiting with a loved one who has dementia is music. Find an old tune. Dig out that old pair of shoes that might bring back memories and play the sweet old songs that mom used to sing to us.

Study and Seek advice

Today on Facebook, my niece Tammy, who is a registered nurse and works with many Alzheimer’s patients, posted this helpful reminder:

Apply What You Learn – Reach Out

I have a friend in our nursing home here in Ennis who has dementia. During this COVID-19 pandemic, the residents have been on lock-down. No visitors. No outings. But recently, the nursing home constructed a “Visiting Booth.” It’s a little 8′ x8′ structure with a roof, two side walls (north and south), an opening to the east. It has a plexiglass partition to the west.

On a sunny day this week I called the nursing home and scheduled a visit with my friend. The nursing home arranges half hour visitations. At the appointed time, the CNA, Bonney, wheeled the resident (my friend) out into the fresh air and into the booth. I sat on the outside of the plexiglass on a park bench. It was hard to hear, but Bonney did what Rochelle had done for my sister and me. She repeated to my friend whatever I said.

I brought my laptop and my cell phone. Used the cell phone “hot spot” to connect to the internet. Logged on to a five year old video of my friend’s daughter singing and playing the SAW in a church service. Bonney brought the laptop into the booth and held it close to my friend. Of course, she thoroughly enjoyed seeing her daughter, hearing that beautiful, inspiring song, and visiting with me about things we had done together in years past.

I left with a song in my heart at the end of our visiting time. I couldn’t figure out how to get the video of Peggy and her saw from my FB page to this post. But, I found Peggy with her violin singing and playing “How Great is Our God” with Jordy Christo, on You.Tube, so I’ll post that here.

If you go to http://www.facebook.com/janbeekman you can find the “Amazing Grace” video with Peggy and her saw. It’s worth the click and your time. This is what it’ll look like when you get there:

I pray that you are inspired
to reach out to someone today
who needs to hear from you.

We may be limited by this pandemic,
but we are not frozen.
Do what you can
to brighten someone’s day!

This was always true of Sally.
She’s 14 months older than I am…
Always responsible and well-behaved!
Cheers from the irresponsible little sister!!

See ya tomorrow.
Have a Wonderful Wednesday.
Love and Hugs…
Stay Well!!

Comments on: "Speaking to Dementia" (19)

  1. Sunny De said:

    So lovely of you to take the time to visit your sister and friends. You’re such a good person, ma! How terrible for Jodie to get the virus!!!!! I hope she’ll be ok!!!

    • Hi De! Thanks for responding. I’ve missed your remarks here in WP. Visiting Sally and Elaine gave me more pleasure and rewarding vibes than I could ever have given away! 🥰💕

  2. Very beautiful and so informative on communicating with dementia. I wrote a post about this disease myself as I find it so very sad for the family.
    As always Ms Janbeek, I appreciate your wisdom.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story and of your sister Sally. Social Distancing has been very hard , & though there’s face time and zoom, human contact and presence is not the same. I hope this COVID 19 ends soon so we all can go back to physical closeness to people we love. Take care.

  4. So beautiful! That picture of you with your sister in younger years is incredible. I love it! That was a precious memory! Thanks so much for sharing. I am caring for a family friend who has dementia. You are right about names. That doesn’t matter. What matters is how her face lights up when she sees me. (Mine does too) She knows that we will have fun, we will eat and dance. The same wonderful thing that we did yesterday and the day before. For a few moments she will smile. Then when we are finished I will hold her hand and ask her if I can come back tomorrow. Her response is always yes, or well sure, and once I even got an ANY TIME! What matters now and always will is how we treat one another, and that is with much love and respect. Thanks again for a beautiful post. God bless you (((( Jan)))) <3 Oh, for the day when the Lord makes us all new and death will be swallowed up in life.

  5. svphillips10gmailcom said:

    Glad I got to meet Sally at your house when we were decorating for Christmas before she left for the Masonic Home!

  6. Great post! This reminds me of my grandparents who are all in heaven now. GOD bless their soul. 🙏🏼

    My lola (grandmother) who reached 92 before she died don’t have much dementia. She forgets but just lil things. But she remembers a lot! She used to tell me of her younger experiences before we sleep. Memories! ❤️

    I love these song “How great is our God” & “Amazing grace” one of my fav Christian songs.

    Thanks for sharing Janbeek. This gives me lots of memories. GOD bless 💕

  7. A beautiful post Jan and thank you for reaching out and sharing this. It’s lovely to get to know loved ones with dementia for who they are now and create some new memories on this part of the journey too 💜

    • Thank you! Yes, these new memories are mine to treasure and share. I hope they inspire others to reach out, too. <3

  8. Thank you for nudging us towards this post, Jan. Speaking for myself, either I missed it first time round or I didn’t receive an alert. It is certainly contains important advice. Fortunately we have not been beset by dementia in our family, but I can vouch for your suggestions.

    • Thank you, Derrick. I am glad you have not had a family history of dementia. The mind is a terrible thing to lose!

  9. Your giving and loving heart brings blessings to others. My paternal grandmother spent her final years with dementia. It was challenging to talk with her at the beginning of her time with this affliction. She could remember events and people from the past, but remembering recent events and people was impossible. We stayed in the past with as much as possible as she would share family memories like they happened yesterday.

    • I’m glad she was able to share – and you were a listening, loving, patient grandson. 👍🏽❤️

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