Marilyn McEntyre, Reflection on Dementia & Anchoring to the Familiar

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Our Hospice Spotlight Volunteer Reflections are shared monthly. Reflections are stories of connection and meaning, presented in the volunteer’s own words. Here is Marilyn McEntyre’s Reflection.

Dementia and Finding Ways of Connecting

My experience with people who have been in various stages of dementia is that it’s a challenge to find a tone of voice, trigger words or some way of being present to them that is soothing. Because it often manifests as anxiety, I feel like the challenge is in meeting them where they are even if it’s just some tactile way. I remember one woman reorganizing jewelry in her drawer, putting the earrings here and the necklaces there and putting them in boxes; These actions somehow anchored her to familiar, away from language into some other way of connecting. That’s a learning curve. It’s like learning sign language.

Girl Reading

Finding the Rhythm Within Words

Similarly, I witnessed something interesting when I was visiting my mother in the last years of her life in assisted living. She had a mild form of dementia. At that time we had a program in the English department where I taught where students would visit nursing homes and read allowed to residents. There was a woman who was a neighbor of my Mom’s in the next department. She had been a high school English teacher for many years and one day received a visit from one of these students. Their instructions had been to read anything you want to read, from Dr. Seuss to the sonnets of Shakespeare –just see if they’re responsive or not. If not, read something else. The student had been in a romantic’s class where they were reading Keats so she brought in the Eves of St. Agnes (a very long story poem by Keats). The piece had a definite rhythm, a strong rhythm and my mom’s friend was on the edge of her chair. She was just riveted by this lengthy poem (one that I’m sure many students would go to sleep over). But, she just didn’t budge until the whole thing was done. And, then she responded in a complete sentence saying,“That was wonderful. That is the best way I’ve heard that read for many years.”
The rhythm had some how brought her alive.

Read Marilyn McEntyre’s Spotlight

Author: Mary York

Mary is a volunteer for Hosparus of Louisville and the Founder of the Windows Within Project.

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