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It Takes Two To Tango

Often when watching someone living with memory loss I wonder what goes through their minds when they are just sitting there, staring into space. Maybe with the advancement of artificial intelligence thoughts might be translated into words or pictures someday.

I have seen people being very uncomfortable when they are left alone, with expressions of severe distress and anxiety. It is then clear that their thoughts must be disturbing or distressing.

In my direct work with people living with memory loss, I have always been so aware of the impact that their environment has on them, and how it can soothe and calm, or distract and distress. The bigger question is however what we do with those expressions of distress…

Noami Feil is the author of “Validation Therapy”. The best way to describe this approach is to allow the person living with memory loss to steer and guide us – like taking the lead in an intimate tango. Being fully centred and present, lightly moving with the person, taking the cue from their body language. Be fast if they want to be fast, slow down when they do. But mostly, again, be fully present. Always make deep eye contact, sincerely.

I have often thought that persons living with memory loss can read our minds, and feel our thoughts. They know when we lie to them, even though they cannot communicate their knowledge with us. If we truly honour the sacredness of the human spirit in every person whom we encounter who lives with dementia, they will respond to this in a positive manner.

As an afterthought – some people are truly horrible human beings. When they develop dementia it does not mean that they will now become wonderful human beings – on the contrary, they might even become more horrible. I have no advice on how to engage with them…

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