Sunday, April 21, 2024

Four Tips to Celebrate Valentine’s Day with a Loved One Living with Dementia

(WYDaily file photo)
(WYDaily file photo)

NEW YORK — Valentine’s Day can create challenges for relationships in which a loved one has dementia.

Because of the illness, they cannot express themselves or remember things as they did before. To help families, friends and partners affected by dementia, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering four tips on how to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a dementia-friendly manner.

“Love and care are important to all of us,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services. “When dementia enters someone’s life, it can change many things, including the dynamic of their relationships. Being adaptable and open to change can help families affected by dementia find alternative ways to express love, show support and connect with one another on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year.”

To create a dementia-friendly Valentine’s Day, just use “L.O.V.E.”:

  • Look back together. Go through old photos together with your loved one and describe them — who the people are, where it was taken, what the occasion was, etc. Simply talking about shared moments: a vacation, celebration, or another occasion that you happily enjoyed together, is a great way to celebrate the love and special bond you share.
  • Open yourself to connecting in different ways. The impact of dementia might make it challenging to do everything exactly as you once did. Still, there are numerous ways to maintain, restore or re-create intimacy, love and connection. Sharing a meal, watching a familiar movie, enjoying favorite music, or just taking a walk together are all ways to stay connected. Nonverbal communication, such as gentle touching, smiles, and eye contact, can also support or strengthen connections with someone no longer able to verbalize their emotions as they had before. The time-honored Valentine’s Day gift of flowers is another way to enjoy the holiday together. Purchase a bouquet of fresh flowers, (preferably ones that are non-toxic to humans or pets, such as roses, orchids, or sunflowers) set it on a table, and enjoy the fragrance together — the scent can uplift mood, promote positive feelings, and stimulate the brain.
  • Verbalize your feelings. Write a Valentine’s card and read it out loud to your loved one. Even if they can no longer grasp the full meaning, your feelings are conveyed, and the act of writing it and communicating your love can raise your own spirits.
  • Express yourself in the person’s love language. Physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service are all types of “love languages” people use to give or receive love. Know what types of gestures your loved one responds positively to and try to “speak to them” in that language. Be mindful that these gestures may change over time as the dementia-related illness progresses.

AFA’s Helpline, staffed entirely by licensed social workers specifically trained in dementia care, can provide additional information and support for families. The Helpline is available seven days a week by phone at 866-232-8484, text message at 646-586-5283, and web chat at alzfdn.org.

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