Simple things often bring the greatest joy. A person with Alzheimer's or dementia can still experience delight. Joy is good for caregivers, too, making us more resilient and increasing well-being.
Start with a good foundation
Take care of yourself to bring your best to the stressful role of caregiving. Stay connected to family and friends and spend time apart from caregiving. Understand and appreciate your loved one’s past and personality. Protect his dignity and be aware different stages of Alzheimer’s require different approaches. Offer choices and adapt to the situation to reduce stress and help your loved one stay calm.
Be in the “moment”
A Buddhist monk said, “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” Simple things, like slowly eating a good meal and noticing the aroma, appearance and taste of your food, can be joyful. Talk about what you notice with your loved one and direct his attention to his own senses. If your loved one reminisces about the past as if it were the present, join him there. What did he enjoy about that time?
Find joy wherever possible
Move at your loved one’s pace, notice what he’s focused on and see it from his perspective. Tell jokes and funny stories and take advantage of impromptu fun. Find joy in the moments when you see glimmers of the person you knew. Rhythmic activities support calm in people with dementia and may bring back enjoyable experiences from earlier times in their lives. Involve your loved one in ordinary activities, like sweeping, folding clothes, or shuffling cards.
Take time to note what you’re grateful for and do this with your loved one, as long as he can participate. Keep a journal and be specific. Celebrate via the activities you can still do together, such as dancing and singing to music you both love. Keep expectations reasonable and appreciate your loved one’s current capabilities.
Touch can bring joy
Touch is elemental; it is how we first connect with our mothers, long before words. Simple touch helps caregivers and loved ones stay connected, especially as the disease increases the difficulty of communication. Aim for soothing, calming, and reassuring touch.
Movement feels good
People with dementia enjoy physical activity, especially in the disease’s early stages. They also benefit from the better sleep and sharper cognitive abilities exercise brings. Simple outdoor games, yoga, and walking are good options.
Spending time outdoors can reduce anxiety and stress levels. Plant flowers together in pots or raised planters and notice the smells, sights and textures of the experience. In winter, make peanut butter birdseed pinecones and hang them in a tree or on a feeder which can be seen from inside the house. When the birds feed, crack a window to hear their twittering.
Because caregiving is a draining task, it is important to get help and rest. Mentally nourished caregivers have a better chance of finding fulfillment in simple everyday living and leading a loved one to find their own joy.