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  • Sharon Daltrey

Rediscovering Connection: Embracing the Present with Dementia

Why do we focus so much on what those with dementia have lost? Is it perhaps that we are thinking of what we too have lost?


I know I did this with my Dad who had Alzheimer’s. Prompting him when we visited, hoping that there might be a glimmer of a memory, something, anything we could connect on. It’s what we all do our whole lives, it’s a universal communication shorthand. ‘Do you remember that time when…..?’  and then we reminisce about our shared experiences, and wander through shared memories together. We connect.


But I eventually realised that this was wrong for him. I needed the reassurance that I was connecting with him, and I was seeking it in the only way I knew how, but I could tell that every time he failed it took something away from him. I could see that he understood that I was looking for something from him, and he felt that failure, which was upsetting for us both.


I came to realise my behaviour wasn’t serving either of us, he would ask to go home, frequently and insistently, so I knew I had to do something different. I chose to put our shared memories aside and stopped asking him to find them and found ways to connect with him in the present, his present. I found that doing activities together we had that connection again. Conversation was obviously difficult in his later stages, and part of what we’d been missing, but setting up a wooden train set together, or rather trying to, became the bridge that we needed to connect. It was this first understanding, of finding a way to bridge the gap into his reality, that led us to find other bridges, other activities and many more moments of connection. When we were together like this sometimes he would remember things, they came to him unbidden by anyone and were such a delightful surprise for us both.


 It still wasn’t easy for either of us, but it was possible. I know the interactions made me feel better, that I had visited and we had connected, and chatted and laughed a little and knew in my heart that he felt the same. He wasn’t sure who I was any more, but I know the gentleman in him appreciated a visit from someone who was there just for him.


It may seem counterintuitive to have found connection by giving up trying to find it, but that’s exactly what happened. And, because it is counterintuitive, is why we have to share our story, because we believe that making a connection in the present, and enjoying the moment with those who have dementia, is within the reach of anyone.

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