The Power of Connecting For My Dad
by Beth Douglas,
Marketing, PAC Certifications
One afternoon a few years ago, I met a woman who had lost her husband to cancer. “Alzheimers disease is nothing compared to cancer,” she said. “Alzheimers just makes people forget things. Cancer kills people.” I was speechless. I asked her if she had ever known anyone who had Alzheimers or any form of dementia. She answered, “Well, none of my family members have had it. They all remained sharp as tacks right up until the end. They were college educated.”
I realized at that moment that there is still so much ignorance about dementia related illness. I lost my dad (who graduated from Boston University) to dementia and remember sitting with him while he struggled to complete a story he was trying to tell me. I knew the stories were in there. If I was patient and encouraging, he could sometimes piece them together.
My dad was a quiet man…the definitive introvert. Honestly, I didn’t know much about him until the last year or so of his life. My mother looked at me one day when I was at their house and asked me if something was wrong. Apparently, it showed on my face. “He’s going to pass away, and I don’t know who he is.” I said, fighting back tears. It was at that moment I decided I would try extra hard to connect with him, talk with him get to KNOW him, if it was possible. Better late than never, I decided.
I would sit on the living room floor next to him as he sat in his reclining chair, gently rest my hand on his, and ask him questions about his childhood. It seemed even if he didn’t remember what he’d had for breakfast that day, he could remember the names of the streets he grew up on as a kid and the names of all of his childhood friends. I loved the idea that a rich wealth of stories still dwelled in him. Each one was like a treasure and as long as I was willing to slowly, gently pulling each one out, I was allowed into that precious realm where his memories resided. I watched his eyes brighten when he realized he still remembered details from when he was a kid. When I would remark, “Wow! It’s great that you still remember that!” I could feel his sense of worth growing. After all, someone recognized that he was still in there and someone wanted to listen. Someone cared. We connected.
When I heard about Teepa Snow and the Positive Approach® to Care, I became tremendously interested. For me, it is so much more than a program or methodology, it is an inspirational philosophy. A shift from focusing on what is lost to recognizing the amazing gifts that are still present with those who have dementia. I strongly agree that each individual is so wonderfully complex. There are countless layers to our essence, our being, and our experiences.
One day, when I was sitting with my dad, he kept leaning forward, looking out the window and shaking his head back and forth with a concerned look on his face. When I asked him what was wrong, he said “The cops are back again.” He said he saw a police car parked in front of the house. I got up, looked out the window and turned around and said, “Oh, guess what? They just left! They are gone now. All I see is Mom’s rose garden. Everything is blooming. What is your favorite color of mom’s roses?” He said red. I agreed that red really was the prettiest. I then asked if he wanted to take a walk through the rose garden with me and he agreed. After our walk, we each had a blueberry muffin, heated up, with melted butter on it. His favorite. That was a good day. I discovered later that the art of redirecting was one of the techniques for handling delusional thinking in those with dementia. I also had learned basics of these things:
- Speaking slowly and clearly
- Positive Physical ApproachTM (PPA)
- Physical contact – My hand on his hand
- Eye contact – welcoming, warm (match their emotion)
- Non-threatening tone
- Addressing concerns and presenting alternative things/activities to redirect
- Using music to recreate memories and positive, feel good feelings
For me, my dad’s dementia journey was bitter sweet. It pained me to see him hurting, but I loved the fact that I was able to help…able to listen…able to soothe…able to connect. I loved that I was able to hear some of my dad’s childhood stories while he was still able to communicate. I feel that Positive Approach to Care® really is the embodiment of compassion and understanding. The concept of focusing on the gifts that remain and practicing patience truly are the heart and soul of what Teepa Snow shares with us.
Beth Hearn Douglas is an award-winning Marketing & Advertising professional with a B.A. in Journalism and more than 20 years of experience in creative direction, copywriting, graphic design, and campaign planning. After losing her father to dementia in 2013, she made a conscious decision to redirect the focus of her career and use her skills to help seniors with dementia and their families. A passionate advocate and volunteer for local central Florida organizations such as the Alzhemier’s Association, Beth believes strongly in the power of engaging seniors in brain-enriching activities and improving their quality of life by showing empathy, love, and humor. She is honored to join the Positive Approach to Care® team, and is looking forward to a new journey ahead in spreading education and inspiration to those who support people living with dementia. She currently resides in Longwood, FL, has a daughter in collage at UCF and an 89-year old mother who is now currently living with dementia.