My Space

My Space post page

By Online Dementia JournalDecember 16th, 2021

My Space

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by Julie Gala, MA CCC-SLP,

Senior Director of Clinical Success – RESTORE Skills and

PAC Certified Independent Trainer

When I was in high school, my favorite place to come home and unwind was in an oversized chair located in the basement of my childhood home. This particular chair was extremely comfortable and located right under the air conditioning and heat vent which provided a cool break during the summer or a warm up during the winter. Depending on how my day went at school, I might have come downstairs to lay in the chair to take a quick nap or get started on my homework to avoid a late night. This experience was 20-plus years ago, but I still remember how I felt: comforted, secure, peaceful, restful, and safe. I can still remember the feel of the air vent blowing down on my skin and whether I needed a blanket to achieve the just right temperature on my skin. I can smell the heat from the vent in the winter. My emotional memory brings happiness of a time when I was comforted in my familiar space.

When I went off to college, I didn’t have this comforting space. Like all freshmen, I was placed in a small room, with someone I had never met, to eat, sleep, dress, groom, perform homework, and maintain a social life. Gone were the days of curling up in my comfort space for some me time or a work session. Having a healthy brain, I had the ability to adjust to my new settings to create new habits, routines, and locations where I could perform my tasks and still feel some sense of control. I chose the top bunk, close to the vent, where I could be in my own bubble and still feel the air flowing on my face. I couldn’t do much about the scent of the room as I had to be mindful of my new roommate, who I may or may not have agreed upon several ways to individualize the room. I had to learn boundaries, sharing of space, and alternating times of when I could perform tasks that gave me comfort so as to not disturb the balance in the roommate dynamic.

I never fully adapted to a new room that I had to share with a person who I had little in common with, other than we were attending the same school to further our education. However, I was able to adapt to the modifications I could make to provide a more comfortable space. As I grew older and eventually had a home of my own, I was able to recreate my comfort zones including location, sensation, and tap into my emotional memories to feel happy.

Again, I have a normal brain. Even at a young age I struggled to adapt to a new environment where I was forced to live with someone I did not know. Our Person Living with Dementia (PLwD) does not have a normal aging brain: their brain is dying and their ability to adapt to new surroundings is impaired. Yet, we wonder why we see rapid declines, increased adverse behaviors, and withdrawals from social interactions when a PLwD is moved to a new setting, out of their comfort zone. Did we take the time to identify what made them comfortable at home? Do we know their routines? Did we provide familiar items for their new environment (bedding, pictures, grooming supplies, clothes?) These small representations of their past life and home may be the bridge they need to transition to a new setting where their world has been turned upside down.

I know I may not be able to have my comfortable chair back from the basement of my childhood home, but I’m currently sitting in a new chair, rocking back and forth, next to the vent providing warm air with a familiar smell as I type away. My brain recalls the way I felt growing up and I am calm. Imagine the positive impact we could have on the life of our PLwD who transitions to a new setting if we take the time to know who they were as a person at home and bring some of that comfort to their new environment.

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