Senior woman opening a valentines gift box

Sharing Valentine’s Day Love to Someone with Dementia

02/14/2023 | News | Reading Time 4 Minutes

It’s no secret that caring for someone with dementia can be challenging. However, if you love someone with dementia, you also know they can bring joy into your life.

This Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing my 20-year experience creating caring communities for older adults, especially with memory care.

Research tells us that 22% of adults ages 85 to 89 live with dementia, increasing to 33% for those 90 and older. Because Marin’s population of folks 85 years of age and older is increasing rapidly, I’ve been reflecting on how many people in our community love someone who lives with dementia.

Over my years of service in the health care industry, I have learned that providing a gentle, calming environment for loved ones with memory challenges helps everyone involved feel secure, safe and valued.

I appreciate the power of good nutrition, technology, safety measures and daily routines that support someone living with dementia. But practical tips can leave out what I feel is the most important truism: to lead with love.

Meet your loved one right where they are. Love them as they are right now. When we let go of the person they once were and love them as they are right now, everyone wins. Be in the present with them and enjoy and cherish the moments you have together.

Remember to have fun. Your loved one will enjoy trips to sites of interest, museums or parks. People experiencing dementia can remember emotions even after they forget the actual event that caused those emotions.

At Aldersly’s Rosenborg Memory Care, we depend on the families of residents to teach us as much as possible about each person’s life story. We begin with a brief biography then ask for more stories. Our staff finds common ground and ways to connect, comfort and bring special meaning to life stories.

Be creative. Try different methods of communication. Using art, music, taste, smell and reading aloud are all ways to connect when your loved one’s verbal expression fades. Even a gentle touch to the arm helps communicate, “you are loved.”

I will never forget a woman named Luella, who lived in one of the communities where I served. She spent her waking hours walking throughout the community she called home. My office was near the front, and I always kept my door open with a bowl of candy on my desk.

Luella came upon my office each time she made her way around her daily walking route. Every time she came upon me, the candy bowl and my office, it was a brand-new experience for her. Luella would comment how she had four sons and that if she had a daughter, she would want it to be me.

You better believe that I looked forward to my daily visits from Luella. For me and for Luella, every interaction was a new day. I took it to heart to take those opportunities to make an impact, be present, and meet each person where they are.

Finding a calm manner, standing beside and with the person with dementia and putting comfort first with a caring approach are skills we can all learn. This is the love language of dementia. This love language ensures better outcomes. We see it every day at Rosenborg Memory Care. You can set realistic expectations for yourself and for your loved one.

This Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to consider the environment, memories and mementos that you can share with your family member with dementia. Do you have photos, books and items they recognize? Perhaps you have special souvenirs of trips you took together, or of life events. What music do you love to listen to together? Let your valentine have a few familiar things to touch, feel or smell. I know you have it in you to speak the love language of your loved one living with dementia, because love truly does endure.

Shannon Brown, of San Rafael, is executive director at Aldersly Retirement Community, home to Rosenborg Memory Center.