Affection for seniors with dementia is invaluable. It is reflected not only on words and tact, but also on behavior and the form of caring for them.
Medical Advisors: María Eugenia Narváez –Gerontologist
Sandra Viviana Vélez – Gerontologist, Specialist in Palliative Care
Affection is what links us to different social groups. It is fundamental in old age, because over the years, human beings begin to feel displaced from their social environment and are easily isolated, and this increases even more when there are cognitive diseases. The gerontologist María Eugenia Narváez Betancur affirms that “the company of those who are also aging alongside a senior citizen is invaluable in order not to lose what we all need: affection”.
Diseases associated with age are related to progressive memory loss. Among these are dementia and Alzheimer’s. Gerontologist Sandra Viviana Vélez, Specialist in Palliative Care and founder of the Buenaventura Residence (Hogar Buenaventura), explains “It is thought that statements of affection are not necessary in adults with dementia or severe neurological problems. However, they are very important, as it has been proven that each time, they are shown love, they feel peace, and this helps in their treatment process”.
Statements of love
Caresses, a tender kiss, a massage, changing a diaper on time and with a good attitude when necessary, are some of the simplest expressions of affection. Accompanying them to run their errands, the family sitting with them to eat and talk at the table, telling them nice things and in a tone of voice that is not irritating, playing music that they have always liked, reading for them, taking them by the hand or giving them a hug, and all non-verbal language that can be used in a positive way helps to strengthen their link with society.
According to Doctor María Eugenia Narváez, one of the main lacks of affection felt by seniors is when they lose importance within the family, for example, for decision making. This means that affection is not just spoiling them or telling them nice words, but also the way in which we behave with the senior. In addition, when society begins to label them as not productive, this leads to pathologies such as depression which is common in the case of diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Love and empathy are the best tools that a family can have when some members can no longer connect with reality.
Acting in time
This is doing something to avoid the person suffering, as these diseases are progressive and incurable. The first act of love in this case is detecting that something is wrong, that the person becomes irritable for any reason, or that they repeat information frequently. A professional must be consulted and the presence of the disease must be detected to be able to start making adaptations, such as creating a network of carers and organizing their schedules, placing locks on doors and windows, giving them a bracelet to wear with basic information, removing mirrors and pictures where they can see their reflection so that they do not become scared when they do not recognize themselves, remove nightstands because they fall out of bed, place locks on skylights, lock away knives, put down anti-slip floors, and let the neighbors and doorman know about the problem, among others. These are some of Doctor Sandra Vélez’ recommendations. After a clear diagnosis, admitting the senior to an institution must be a decision based on love, on information on their health condition and always thinking about their welfare, more than that of the family.
- Seek professional help when symptoms begin in order to have a clear and appropriate diagnosis.
- As a family, bring together clear and practical information on the disease: implications, consequences and care.
- Make locative adaptations in the entire house, thinking about the patient.
- “Connecting ourselves with their reality from the point of empathy with their life story is the key to statements of affection” says Gerontologist Sandra Viviana Vélez.
- Exposing them to loud places or places with a lot of people. This causes them anxiety.
- Removing them from their environment or changing the same, unless they feel safe. For example, taking them on vacation or changing the place of the furniture in the room. This can be overwhelming for them.
- Forcing them to have a recent memory or recognize someone in the family. They can become aggressive.
- Leaving them alone, including to sleep at night, as they might get up and hurt themselves or leave the house and get lost.