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Sweetheart Messages in the World of Dementia

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In the season of conversation hearts, a candy that has long represented Valentine’s day, how can we express our love to individuals who are changing as quickly as their brain changes with dementia?

Dr. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages describes how individuals have a primary and secondary love language.1 The five love languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

As a caregiver, you may be able to define your loved one’s primary love language by reflecting on the way they have expressed love in the past.

  • Did your mom give gifts more often than share words of affirmation?
  • Did your husband do more acts of service than schedule quality time?

Dementia changes may cloud all communication and as the changes confuse the individual, often complaints become the communication style. What they complain about most, may be their primary love language.

Words of affirmation and touch are my choice as the top two love languages for later stages of dementia. That being said, our words of affirmation and our touch have to change to match the brain change.

In my Creating a Thriving Environment2 training, one of the five care strategies I teach is Simplify.  We can simplify our message and approach to better communicate with our loved one whose brain is changing. So, the romantic limerick you once rattled off to your husband who now understands approximately one out of every four words, needs to be shorter.

Think conversation hearts.

The essence of love, with a few short words.  You may or may not like the candy, but a sprinkling of the sentiments throughout your day would surely ease some insecurity.  The same is true for your loved one.

In my home “I love you” has become the connecting words my husband uses to affirm I am present in his world, our home.  He shouts it from the other room, as a connection. My response for now, at this juncture, is, “I love you more.” The connection is confirmed; I am in the house.  The same way he whips his head around when I switch sides as we walk together—a “Where are you?  Oh, there you are.”

Perhaps your mom, dad, friend is having word retrieval issues, a simple statement “I am listening” stated with eye contact and patience communicates love.  Or “I am here” with a touch.

There are many changes as the brain shrinks quicker than normal aging.  As caregivers we are called to “distinguish between love as a feeling and love as an action.5 In my experience, the action can produce the feeling which makes the job of caregiving just a little less overwhelming.

Footnotes

1Chapman, G. 2010. The Five Love Languages, Northfield Publishing.

2http://catemccarty.com/cate-list/