One of the most agonizing emotional struggles I watch caregivers and family members go through is coping with the gradual loss of self-awareness seen in people with dementia. Family members feel compelled to constantly remind, explain, and review a person’s past, as if being aware of one’s own identity and heritage is the key to preserving dignity. We sometimes feel it is up to us to restore their identity to the highest extent possible, to remind them of their past as validation of their importance in the world.
But sometimes this effort causes undo stress for everyone. A person with memory loss just can’t remember the details that used to be a big part of his or her identity. The more the family member urges the person to acknowledge parts of their past, the more the anxious the person becomes for not being able to recall their own storyline. Family members feel like the person with dementia is losing their foothold in this reality and respond as if called to action. They try even harder to “bring them back.”
There is no right or wrong to this approach. I think it is a natural response for caregivers to want to preserve a person’s identity when their family member no longer can. The memory-loss journey is a difficult one.
I watched this video recently and was moved by this man’s astute and poignant words. This video, produced by Barchester homes in the United Kingdom, discusses what to look when selecting a care home. Beyond all the obvious qualities of excellent care homes, I think David shows tremendous insight into the experiences of the family member when he describes the emotional push-pull of memory loss. I think he just got it right when he says family member who visit their memory-impaired loved ones face two stark choices… (around 5 minute mark).