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Maintaining the Human Connection In Dementia Care

There are few better feelings than establishing a meaningful connection with another human being. When we meet someone with the same interests values and character traits as us, we feel comforted by the similarities we discover and keen to get to know the other person in more depth. Human connections are also beneficial to physical health and wellbeing. They can keep our brains stimulated and our emotions nurtured.

We can feel part of a wider network and valued for our experiences, friendship and personality. All of this leads to greater confidence and resilience to cope with more of life’s challenges.

People living with dementia are often denied the simple pleasure of human connection. In the early stages of dementia, many can feel worried about their memory loss and embarrassed to admit it to others. So, they withdraw socially and isolate themselves in a bid to hide their symptoms and then try and cope with them alone. By the time their dementia is worsening to the extent that they need a lot more help, their wider support network could have disappeared. While some friends and family members may try harder than others to stay in touch, dementia makes communicating much more complicated, which can be frustrating.

The importance of touch

Despite a loss of verbal communications, people with dementia can still get a great deal of comfort and pleasure from non-verbal contact instead. Both touch and eye contact are incredibly important and powerful means of communications and human connection. Interacting in these ways with visitors and carers can help make life more meaningful for people living with dementia, and help them reconnect to their feelings and emotions. Above all, it can bring about feelings of safety when what’s happening in the world around them could be harder to understand.

Other ways to interact with people with dementia could involve other senses. Sharing old photographs, films and pictures can help evoke memories, as can playing music or recordings of people’s voices. Even taste can help connect people to memories of delicious meals once enjoyed or past social interactions over tea and cake or a pint of beer.

They key is to try and tap into what the person used to enjoy and feel comforted by. That is why dementia care must be individual, placing the person themselves at the centre of planning as much as possible.

Namaste care

The nature of this type of ‘human connection’ care can only be described as ‘holistic’. It considers the person as a whole, taking into account their personality, preferences and past experiences. This is the philosophy behind Namaste Care. It is a form of caring for people in the later stages of dementia that looks at the whole person, not just their list of symptoms. The concept of ‘Namaste’ has many connotations culturally and religiously. However, one is the idea of ‘seeing’ the person, going beyond their dementia to get to know their real character and individual likes, dislikes and preferences.

The Namaste care approach helps people with dementia feel genuine human connections. It does this by having the carers focus on how each task they do for those being looked after makes the person feel. For example, helping someone have a bath not only gets them clean but it adds soothing feelings of being enveloped in warm water and surrounded by beautiful fragrance. We can all find pleasure in that, no matter what else we may find challenging in life.

Other examples of how Namaste care goes beyond meeting basic healthcare needs include sitting with people when they are watching television or listening to music. Simple companionship enhances these daily activities and gives the person so much more pleasure than if they were left to watch or listen alone. It can also bring carers closer emotionally to those they look after. Family members can get involved too by suggesting or bringing in favourite films, TV programme recordings, music tracks or podcasts to play.

All of this adds even more layers to the process of maintaining human connection. In turn, these layers help carers learn more about how to interact meaningfully with people who have dementia. It promotes person-led caring and leads to a calmer, happier environment for everyone concerned with the person’s wellbeing. All things that strengthen our mutual bonds and help our human connection to continue, even in the face of later-stage dementia.

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