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The NSPA Blog

Live in Their Truth!

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We know in its early stages Alzheimer’s disease typically affects short-term memory, and from there it can progress to loss of long term memory. But before this final phase may be reached, those with Alzheimer’s disease typically remember events in the distant past better than events that occurred in the more recent past. One can say, the Alzheimer’s patient lives in the past! So how then do you meet your loved one, or your resident (if you are a care provider in a care facility)? You learn what memories they have left – the people they remember, the places, the events, etc, and how it makes them feel. Because this is their now, this is their truth!

How do you learn about that? Do you ask them who they remember, what they remember? No, this is too abstract of a concept, that’s not how their memory works. Their memories are attached to feelings! So instead, you observe and gather information over a period of time. For example, over the course of two weeks, take a notebook, keep it nearby, and every time your loved one gets triggered by something that prompts a memory, write it down, thus creating a care plan that promotes success in positive experiences for you and your loved on this last leg of their journey in life.

Here are 3 Truths…

Let’s say you brought your mother a slice of cherry pie and your loved one starts talking about how her mother always baked cherry pie and how her mother wore this beautiful apron and the kitchen smelled so sweet and your loved one expresses how that made her feel so comfortable, loved and safe. Or maybe she doesn’t say that, but you can deduct it from her positive description. Now you know that cherry pie evokes a positive memory and a positive feeling. Then, next time you visit, bring another slice of cherry pie. Or next time your loved one is agitated, serve them a slice of cherry pie and watch them calm down. By doing so, you live in their truth, you let them feel like that child again, loved and safe, just with a piece of cherry pie.

Or you take your Ioved one on a walk past a river and your loved one gets all agitated and starts crying. You ask them, why are you crying? Your loved one may tell you, that Johnny was swimming in a river and drowned the summer after he finished school. Well, now you know, your loved one associates rivers with a negative event, which makes them feel scared and sad, and you will avoid rivers in the future. You are living in their truth.

As the disease claims more of their memory, the affected get younger and younger in their mind. So if your father is constantly asking for his mother, you know, your father is probably a child in his truth. So you meet him there, when he is a child. And however painful it is, at least you now know why your own father doesn’t recognize you – you are not born yet in his truth. Don’t try to convince him you are his child, he doesn’t understand this. On the contrary, it may make him look at you as though you are crazy and he may want nothing to do with you. Instead, you can be a friend to him in this moment and live in his truth, and maybe enjoy this short time with a shared activity your dad enjoyed doing as a child.

Finally…

The memories Alzheimer’s patients have left are their truth! It’s all they have left, it is who they are in the now. You cannot change your loved one back into the person they once were. But you can change your approach to your loved one. Grieve your loss of your loved one, and then live in their truth with them as they are now, and make them feel safe and loved, on this last leg of their journey in life.

Source: Presentation “Creating Moments of Joy” by Jolene Brackey at the Aging Well Conference in Kenosha, WI on June 7, 2019.

With over 36 years of clinical experience in Critical Care nursing, home based health care and expertise as a cardiovascular nurse clinician, Teri is well acquainted with the complexities of the modern healthcare system. She has served as a nursing leader, mentor, educator, and consistent patient advocate throughout her career in some of the best hospitals across the country. Her passion to keep the patient at the center of the model of nursing care led her to incorporate NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in 2011, serving clients throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.

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