The secret of change is not to focus all of our energy on fighting the old
but on building the new.
It is hard work being a person living with dementia – it is just as hard being a supportive partner of a person living with dementia.
When we work together and try to understand each other, things flow more smoothly, and we can usually come to some form of agreement as to how to live our lives in harmony, but it takes work and great communication skills!
Today, I am talking about an issue that comes with the middle to late stages of dementia, usually when people are starting to use more actions and body language than the use of words to form sentences, or perhaps words are becoming more jumbled, such as using the word “cup” when the person actually means “saucer”. This is a very frustrating time for both parties.
Let’s take a look at this situation for example:-
I (as the person living with dementia) want to keep something that is “worthless” to everyone else but me…for example, a broken ornament, toy or worn out item of clothing or accessory, such as a wallet or handbag.
EVERYONE is telling me it is old, unsightly, unhygienic and we need to get a new one or get rid of it, but I am sticking to my guns! I am NOT getting rid of this, and it is upsetting that you can’t see the value of it, and I can’t explain how much this means to me or why I want to keep it – just that it’s MINE and I am not letting go of it!
Let’s look at the two different perspectives…..
From the person living with dementia’s point of view:- I love this item. It invokes so many memories and feelings for me, but I may not be able to recall them. It just makes me feel GOOD or I might use it again sometime – it has a use, and it is familiar to me.
From the supportive partner’s point of view:- This item is not worth anything, it looks disgusting, and what will people think if I take my loved one out with this item, when I know that we already have another just like it, or we can purchase another to replace it.
Discernment is the key – And one question…Does it really matter? Is the item THAT important that it has to be disposed of straight away? If not, either decide to let it go completely as your problem as the supportive partner, discarding the attachment to the item from your point of view. If it is REALLY that important, work on it slowly, with compassion and understanding from the other person’s point of view…so on to how to do this…
Let’s look at the strategies and is the strategy we’re about to use going to be effective?
When we attempt to resolve something – it is seen as a problem that needs fixing , we are taking action to solve a problem– if we break up this word “RE”– meaning do again, and “SOLVE” – meaning effectively dealing with a problem. If we try to resolve things, we are effectively redoing the solving of a problem again and again – it will become a bigger problem if we keep doing things this way– this gives us no room to move forward and think of a legitimate reason for a person “acting” in this way. I.E. Here is a problem – let’s fix it. Dementia and fixing does not work – for me (as a person living with dementia), it leads to thoughts of failure. It is an all or nothing approach which gives me no control over choices and therefore, I will assert my choice to keep the item, whether I am willing to let it go or not- and the more you approach me this way, the more I will collect and hide things because now I know you will start “stealing” from me to get rid of things you see as not important or useless.
Intentions however, have a much more compassionate energy. Because they don’t tie us to an outcome, they simply ask that we think about our actions and make efforts to do our best –actions done in this way are viewed with less criticism. If your intent is to rid the person living with dementia of that item eventually because it actually is unhygienic or that a new one has been purchased to replace, start out with that intent – talk openly with the person living with dementia in short sentences and for a brief time. Show your heart to them whilst you are doing this, and let them know that when they are ready, you have a gift for them (do not bring up why you are replacing this item!), that the item you have purchased may not be the same as the one that they have, or feel the same, but you want to be sure, that when the time comes to replace the used one, that they are comfortable with it. If the item is met with resistance, take it away, and start over on another day and time, when the person living with dementia is feeling comfortable about talking about it again.
When we do things this way, we can both begin again, without getting caught up in judgement about ourselves. We can simply move on, realising that the next moment is a brand new moment and tomorrow is a brand new day. We can always start again. With intentions, our focus is not on what we want to “fix”, but rather what we want to create. Long term, that’s a much more effective strategy to meeting our goals together
Perhaps place the new item side by side with the old one, and leave it at that – letting your loved one living with dementia know that it is their choice to decide if and when the old one should go.
There are so many ways to work with this, and because every person with dementia is as different as every other person in the world, there will be specific ways that you as a supportive partner “knows” intuitively what works and what doesn’t – use your knowledge. To work with me on ideas on how to do this, please contact me.