“As caregivers, we need to connect with each other and share our stories. ”
Those were the opening words of our host, Murlene Vanbeverhoudt at a recent caregiver’s gathering at the charming Pistarckle Theater in St. Thomas, USVI.
We were honored to share stories from Love in the Land of Dementia with 75 people, a mixture of family and professional caregivers and community members.
The Team Who Organized the Event
Large audience in St. Thomas
Deborah Shouse on Stage in St. Thomas
Seven Secrets for Building Strong Connections
During our time together, we invited people to discuss some of the wisdom they’d garnered from their caregiving journey. Here are some of their insights.
“When my mother, who has dementia, feels tense, I try to remember to smile at her. A smile always puts her at ease.”
“Simple, loving touch helps me communicate with my friend who has Alzheimer’s.”
“I try to accept my husband just as he is.”
“Every week I visit a friend who has Alzheimer’s. Before the visit, I prepare myself by slowing down and knowing I will need to be patient. I also bring her favorite foods — bread and cheese — and I bring her favorite music. I never mind if she asks the same questions again and again; I am grateful she asks me questions. When I play her music, her face lights up and sometimes she gets up and dances.”
“I treasure hearing the old stories. My mother and her sister both have memory loss but they can talk vividly about their growing up years.”
“My mother doesn’t know what she had for breakfast but she does remember in detail how to dig a coal pit and how to skin a pig. These are the stories she’s been sharing with my son, who is in college, studying physical therapy. At first he wasn’t that interested in the stories. Then he learned that later on in the semester, he’s going to be skinning a cat in biology lab: he’ll have inside knowledge from his grandmother’s pig story!”
“I try to avoid saying ‘No’ to my clients who have Alzheimer’s. Hearing ‘no’ can set up a resistance. Instead, I move onto another subject. I distract them and try to accomplish my goals in a slightly different way.”
Striding into The No-Share Zone: The Importance of Self-Nurturing
We also talked about the many stresses of being a caregiver. Some of the issues included frustration with communication, exhaustion, and feeling overwhelmed.
Several people who ran caregiver’s support groups urged everyone to connect with a group.
At the end of our session, we told our story, The No-Share Zone, which celebrates the importance of self-nurturing. To conclude, we all nurtured ourselves with chocolate and with a luscious lunch. (We ate dessert first!)
Connecting Through the Maze of Dementia
St. Thomas is a beautiful island, rich with pristine beaches, first-class snorkeling and sweeping vistas. Equally beautiful is their community of caregivers, each on a deep emotional and spiritual journey, trying to keep connected through the maze of dementia.
We welcome your insights: what have you learned from your journey through dementia?
author, LOVE IN THE LAND OF DEMENTIA