Occasionally, a staff member at The Ivey will bring in one of their children to visit with our members. And each and every time, our members light up with new joy.
As I watch both the children and our members interact, smile and laugh, I think of the journey of life – from young to old, from innocence to experience, from carefree to responsibility – and how marvelous it is when people from different parts of the “age spectrum” share time together.
What is it about children that activates older people in such wonderful ways? There are the obvious answers: a reminder of our own childhood, the beauty of youth, and the innate energy of a happy-go-lucky youngster absorbing the world around them. Whatever it is, I always welcome and encourage opportunities for our members to bask in the glow of children and their healing energy.
But the other day, I was thinking deeper about all of this. Children are here to teach us things, especially family caregivers. And to be sure, there are lessons we can learn from them that can shed light on our own journeys caring for our loved ones living with memory loss. For example:
• Play, Play, Play More – There are so many fun ways to maintain connection with your loved one. Play games. Make art. Tap into the power of song, dance, comedy, drama and reading to communicate with each other, even when verbal skills are diminished or gone. At The Ivey, we putt golf balls, play cornhole, and engage in lots of other fun activities that keep us feeling young and alive.
• Use Your Imagination – When someone living with Alzheimer’s or other type of dementia talks about something that’s not really there, we have a choice. We can push back and insist that there are no pink monkeys in the backyard, or we can engage our loved one in a playful conversation about where they came from and what the heck they’re doing back there! Over the years, I have found that stepping into their world provides much more connection, ease and joy than insisting that their world is an illusion.
• Love ‘Em Up – Much like children, nothing makes our loved ones feel safe and secure like a warm hug, a gentle kiss, or a soft stroke on their arm as you sit together. The benefits of touch are vitally important. And it’s another non-verbal way to stay connected. So hold them close and wrap them in your love. It’ll feel good for both of you!
• Let It Go – Children have a remarkable ability to release their feelings about something and then move on. They don’t stay “attached” to circumstances the way we do as adults. In fact, the younger they are, the better they are at this! Just look at how a toddler can go from throwing a tantrum one moment to playing cheerfully the next. Whenever possible, we can choose to do this throughout our caregiving experience, too. We can choose to avoid arguing with our loved one, and we can choose not to take potentially-hurtful words personally. As the disease progresses, we have more opportunities to remember that they are not their disease.
And let’s not forget that, as with children, a good education is crucial! Learning as much as you can about the progression of Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia can give you new perspectives, cultivate empathy, and help you care for yourself every day. (The Ivey has an on-site educational library open to anyone who wants to learn more.)
So here’s me raising a sippy-cup in gratitude for the priceless, joyful miracles that children represent in our lives. Play on, kids!
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