Chocolates, plush animals, and romantic cards. Those are the staples of Valentine’s Day. But want to see real love in action? Watch a care partner for someone with dementia.
(Apologies to Saint Paul; I used his First Letter to the Corinthians, verses 4-13, as the platform for this post).
Love really tries to be patient. Especially when I try to figure out why a certain behavior is happening. Love is kind; I play to his or her strengths instead of dwelling on the not-so-great parts.
Love gently provides the same answer to the same question asked 6 times in the last 5 minutes. Love sweetly listens to the same stories over and over again. Love is entering the person with dementia’s reality to understand the behaviors. Love is creative as I find meaningful activities that respect his or her preferences. Love is laughing at oneself and seeing the humor in the situation. Love is understanding that the person with dementia is not doing things to be disagreeable; the person with dementia is trying to make sense out of a sometimes scary and nonsensical world with mixed-up memories.
Love is becoming the memory. Love is helping to dress and bathe. Love is feeling thrilled that he put the left shoe on the left foot today. Love is feeling joy that she knows who I am today. Love is feeling triumphant because I figured out how to get him into the shower without a fight today. Love can be boastful: “Yay!! Look what WE did!!”
Love never fails, although I feel like I do at times. But where there are yucky days, they will pass. Where there are challenges, they will fade. For we know in part how to handle situations because we are learning, and every day brings more ideas and abilities than the one prior. Before I became a care partner, I talked, thought, and reasoned differently. When I became a care partner, I began to see the world through my loved one’s eyes.
Faith, hope, and love remain. My faith gives me the strength to do some pretty difficult things. My hope helps me to persevere, because I am optimistic that this journey will continue to yield positive and surprising lessons. But it is my love for my care partner, the greatest of the three, that make it all complete.
Happy Valentine’s Day to the greatest examples of love: the care partners for persons with dementia.
Dr. Rita Jablonski
Rita Jablonski, PhD, CRNP, FAAN, FGSA is a nurse practitioner, researcher, tenured professor, and former family caregiver. Her research and practice involve all aspects of dementia management; she is best known for non-drug strategies to address dementia-related behaviors.