Our milestones are our benchmarks for those once in a lifetime “firsts”: Our first job, car, kiss, rollercoaster ride, motorcycle, tattoo, graduation, home, children, grandkids … The list goes on and on. Do you remember how you felt? Although our loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease seem to be changing before our eyes, it’s these cherished connections that continuously make life meaningful for them. The key to “living for the moment” is knowing the “Cherished Connections”. What was important in their history: Milestones, their family, the military, their career, their home, traveling, hobbies, etc.
How can we help our loved one “live for the moment” throughout the stages of Alzheimer’s disease? Empower individuals with choices and encourage activities that draw those cherished connections. Go to places of interest, engage in hobbies, eat their favorite foods, and encourage family to visit, write, or call. Remember, it’s important to see the person for who they are now, not who they were. Compassion, patience and empathy are needed.
The best visitor:
- Comes with a plan to involve their loved one and family in a conversation or activities
- Asks questions, pays attention to feelings
- Doesn’t contradict, argue, or need to explain an action or word
- Uses gentle humor
- Is encouraged to bring in the family and children, which offers reassurance
- Isn’t afraid of silence - just being with their loved one is comforting to them
- Leaves the resident feeling valued, happy and relaxed
As the disease progresses, living for the moment may mean serving up a favorite ice cream with favorite toppings in the kitchen instead of that trip to the local ice cream shop. It may mean listening to those favorite songs instead of attending a concert. It could mean perusing family photo albums or looking at old antique cars in photo books. It may mean enjoying children caroling at the door and singing Christmas carols with them instead of caroling door to door like you used to do. Cherished connections give us the opportunity to make life meaningful, regardless of the changes.
We’re never too old for that feeling of “firsts”. Without milestones, how would we really know exhilaration, anticipation, hope, faith, courage, risk, disappointment, or love? We are never too old to explore, discover, and feel. Although the person you know is changing, the cherished connections to milestones will always be there. Drawing on those meaningful moments through experiences and activities will be one of the greatest gifts you could bestow.