Simple Ways to Create Moments of Joy for People Suffering from Dementia or Memory-related Illnesses

March 29, 2016

Dementia and other memory-related illnesses can take years away from a person’s memory, leaving them in a “new” world that is unknown to the rest of us. Caregivers often struggle with how to function in this reality, and sometimes unknowingly add to the anxiety that those in their care may be facing. 

Fortunately, being aware of what is happening to their loved ones is a great first step in trying to create a healthier path towards “moments of joy” and greater peace for everyone. From there, you can participate in their world the way they want to, or you can introduce ideas and activities that have more meaning to them. Here are a few suggestions caregivers discussed at a recent Dementia Caregivers’ Support Group meeting held at The Saybrook at Haddam: 

  • Know as much as you can about the life of your loved one – their former hobbies, interests, likes, passions, career, travels, etc.  Use this information to encourage them to do something (“Can you teach me to knit?”), to motivate them to talk (“Tell me about that car trip you took to the Grand Canyon.”), or to redirect a conversation away from them wanting to “go to work” to talking about their careers (“Do you like working in the city? What’s that like?)
  • Help them feel as if everything is OK by answering their questions in ways that relate to their world. If your mom is looking for her long-gone best friend, you can say she will be here soon. If your dad wants to go “home,” you can say you will take him after dinner. If your sister keeps asking for her children, you can say they are at their friend’s house. These responses put the caregiver in their world and let their loved one relax a bit.
  • Give them wonderful reasons to “stay” when they want to “leave.”  Whether they feel they need to go home and cook dinner, go take care of the lawn or garden, or get to their job, you can reply with joyful alternatives. Some options could be:
    • “You don’t have to cook today because your friend brought over a hot dinner that we cannot waste.”
    • “Joe wanted to mow the lawn this week and you can do it next week.”
    • “Isn’t it great that your boss gave you the day off?  Let’s do something more fun!”

Caregivers need patience to have these conversations over and over again, but there is satisfaction knowing their loved ones will almost always find comfort in these answers. They may need to try several options to find the answer that works best on a given day, but those who are open to finding joy in the moment will see the reward – less anxiety, greater peace, and more enjoyable visits.

Submitted by Brooke Conley, LCSW, in-house staff social worker at The Saybrook at Haddam. She created the Dementia Caregivers’ Support Group. which meets at the community the 3rd Thursday of each month at 6 p.m.  Click here to contact The Saybrook at Haddam, or call 860-345-3779 for more details.

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