Oct 03, 2023

The behavioural association with family and friends

The truth is nobody will probably ever really know what the person living with dementia sees or feels. [Source: Shutterstock]

Over the years in residential care, I have noticed the influence family members and friends have on the well-being of residents, especially in the early to middle stages of dementia.

People who experience daily behaviours such as wandering, unsettled and often agitated could be associated with loneliness, depression and anxiety coupled with the symptoms connected to their dementia diagnosis.

Missing loved ones and their familiar home environment increases the exasperation of deeply felt emotions and identity.

Constantly searching for recognisable surroundings adds to the confusion and frustration, which leads to cognitive behavioural changes. Living with people you have never met before, sharing meals, and living quarters with other residents’ behaviours can change the emotional state of a once-settled and calmest of people.

I recently overheard snippets of a telephone conversation with one of our middle-stage dementia residents, who would rarely string any articulate sentences together; talking to her son on the telephone was the reverse.

She spoke coherently about special deals a particular airline would offer on a Friday for cheaper flights to Darwin and was engaged in the conversation. To any outsider, they would not have recognised that the person was living with dementia. The exchange of views, ideas and options was being offered freely by the resident, who was eager to see her son and was partaking in a comprehendible two-way tête-à-tête.

When the call ended, the resident looked thoughtful and appeared to be processing what she had heard and experienced.

I was curious to know what was going through her mind at the time of the telephone call when she was lucid and in control of her choices.

We can see that this is no isolated case when family or friends visit, especially with young children or babies, and engagement becomes more apparent. Could it be the association with family connections or the comfort and familiarity they bring? Relatives are often not recognised but mistaken due to their resemblance to siblings or family members who have since passed away. For the person with dementia, it’s their reality and exists in their minds.

Only through their eyes can we empathise and be aware that their reality is different from ours, which should be respected and acknowledged, never dismissed and always honoured.

Families experience anger, resentment and frustration at how their loved one is changing by not recognising them or even connecting them with another family member.

The journey is not only challenging for the person diagnosed with dementia but also for those who love them; they are still here with us. Although they may be in another state of mind than ours, they still need comfort, understanding and our love.

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