Valentine’s Day is that beautiful time of the year where soon-to-be or new couples use the opportunity to declare their love. Couples who have been together longer might joke about not going to too much trouble, but secretly enjoy the excuse for a little romance all the same. Perhaps it involves going out for a meal, giving or receiving flowers, or simply making a point of saying ‘I love you’ or ‘Thank you’ to someone special.
If Valentine’s Day is about celebrating the love in your life, what does this mean if you you or someone you love has dementia? What might change if you are living with dementia?
It’s true, there are things that can make a celebration like Valentine’s Day harder if you are living with dementia, for example:
- Communication: Finding the right words to say or to write may be difficult for a person with dementia
- Remembering: Keeping track of special days or remembering to do something to mark it may be impossible if the person has lots of difficulties with short-term memory
- Taking the initiative: This can be a particular problem for people with dementia, especially when combined with memory problems
- Noisy venues: Often people with dementia find crowded environments difficult to juggle, as they are struggling with an overload of messages to their brain, which is already struggling to make sense of the world around them.
There are certainly challenges, but it’s so important that people with dementia are supported to keep up the love in their life, to find ways to nurture love, and to celebrate the love that has sustained them over the years – whether that’s a dear partner, a friend, people within a valued local community or perhaps a cherished pet. And yes that can be on Valentine’s Day – but really any day of the year!
Here are a few ideas for how to do this – for partners, or friends, or care and support staff.
Listen to music together
Enjoy listening to some special music linked with memories of love: it could be from a memorable event or simply a favourite piece of music.
As well as music, are there any particularly memorable sounds from an earlier time in life: a recording of birdsong for example, or an ice cream van? Does that prompt any memories?
Enjoy a meal or special food treat together
What is a favourite food linked with special occasions, say a particular type of chocolate? Or fish and chips? Can this tradition be continued?
Look at and hold something special
Is there a special photo to gaze at together? A piece of jewellery to hold and touch? For example, wedding bands, or something handed down from another generation. Does it prompt any conversation?
Simply feeling listened to and heard is an important part of feeling loved. Make time for a unrushed, quiet conversation. Take as long as needed for the person with dementia to communicate what it is they want to say.
When it’s hard to use words, gentle touch becomes even more important. A kiss, a hand massage or simply holding holds, might offer a cherished moment. Privacy and space are important too, and people with dementia may need support from others to find this.
People with dementia and their partners are likely to face lots of changes and challenges to their relationship as the dementia progresses. Communication and roles are two key examples – so it’s even more important that they are supported to keep up with the vital relationships in their life.
The importance of love for people with dementia is now being understood and celebrated more and more, thanks in no small part to the work of the Museum of Love curated by Dr Catherine Barrett. You can check it out here.
Love is what makes us human. It’s what sustains us and keeps us in relationship with others around us. Love is at the centre of so much in our life: our personal history, our sense of identity, our special memories.
This Valentine’s Day try to use the ideas above to reach out to someone you know who is living with dementia and help them celebrate the love in their life.