The ability to discern time and place is a bedrock of civilized life, anchoring us to reality. When we say: “There is a time and place for everything,” we mean everything has a proper or appropriate time and place in our world. As soon as we make social plans with others, we designate the time and place to meet. These concepts of the real world are so ingrained in each of us that we often take them for granted. Recently a friend took a fall while jogging outside and temporarily lost consciousness. When the emergency team came, our friend had no recollection of the immediate event and was somewhat disoriented. For a brief time he lost that connection with what is familiar and surrounds him. He was fortunate that his reality orientation and memories returned rather quickly after he received medical treatment. Temporary disorientation can be a response to a trauma like a fall or a situation. Some of us have experienced a glimpse of time distortion during the prolonged coronavirus shutdown. Without our usual schedule of responsibilities and activities, we have at times slept too much and other times too little. Sometimes 3am has felt like 3pm. Our sense of place is blurred by working at home in pajamas.
Now imagine how loss of orientation and memory affects so many older adults living with dementia on a daily basis. Their reality has been permanently altered by cognitive decline. They cannot always feel the happiness of enjoying their own birthday party or recalling yesterday’s family visit. They may be confused about whether a visitor is their son or grandson or a stranger. Time is no longer meaningful in the present. Their careers, which had given them self-esteem and recognition, are now lost in the distant past. There are often no young children to nurture or spouses to love. Today’s world is full of loss, loneliness, and difficulty coping with the prospect of death. Our reality escapes their grasp; they retreat into their own personal realities, which often fixate on the comforting nostalgia of the past rather than the challenges of the present.
The Validation method was created by Naomi Feil to help family members and caregivers communicate with older adults in various stages of disorientation as they struggle to resolve emotional unfinished business, so that they can die in peace. Naomi designed appropriate techniques to use for each stage. She asks that we step into the shoes of those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and show them respect and empathy. She helps caregivers change their behaviors so they can be there for the other person and share feelings together. Her method does not patronize or placate or stigmatize. It values individuals as they are today, and does not try to cure them or fit them into our view of reality if they don’t grasp it themselves. By stepping into their shoes, we can accompany them on their final emotional journey and reassure them that they are not alone. All of us can learn valuable lessons from our current glimpse into a different reality and perhaps develop more empathy for those removed from it.
This week our hearts go out to families who are physically separated and unable to care for or even visit each other during the coronavirus lockdown. We also appreciate those who manage or provide care in facilities especially when older adults are unable to see their families in-person at this time.
By: Fran Bulloff, VTI President