For me, each moment is a blank canvas. It sits, waiting to be painted. Will it be made bright and beautiful? Or will it have many shades of gray and darkness?
Like a blank canvas, I believe “the moment” waits for our arrival to determine what it will become. And it is “the moment” that matters the very most for well-being. The past is gone, the future is a question, but “the moment” is what we have right now, and what we have some ability to impact.
I believe what I experience in that moment to be in great part a direct reflection of what I think and feel. The beliefs and perspectives I hold matter. My ability to stay present and make the very best of the moment matters much to my well-being.
This approach serves me well personally, and it is also a cornerstone for our Dementia Capable Care model. When we consider those living with dementia, we think about “this moment” and ask, “What does the person in my care want or need to do today, what are they capable of, and how can I provide the right supports to make it happen?”
Focus on “The Moment”
To accomplish these goals, we must keep our attention on the here and now, always asking how this moment can be the best it can be, given any circumstance or situation. When working with someone living with dementia, this means we enable the use of their current abilities while supporting what they’ve lost. And we learn, honor, and encourage their unique individuality.
As an example, we know long-term memory is a preserved ability late into dementia. We also know when we connect to a person’s preferences, routines, and long-term memories, we harness their strengths and capture their motivation. This then facilitates their success and fosters emotional well-being.
A great example of this is Tony Bennett, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Even living with dementia, Tony’s extraordinary musical ability shines through. We know music is a long-term memory at a whole other level in that it connects to our limbic systems (aka our emotions) in a way many other things can’t. If you watched Tony in his December 2021 TV special, you saw this in action and you saw Tony walk on stage and turn on. It’s not that Tony doesn’t have Alzheimer’s. It’s not that he hasn’t forgotten things or lost some abilities. But it is that today—in the moment—he has many preserved abilities, which for him includes remembering the lyrics, melodies, and rhythm of his songbook. These abilities are still there. Tony is still there. The moment he took the stage was bright and beautiful.
As we enter this new year my hope is every person living with dementia will have someone who helps them to paint the canvas that is the moments in their day, bright and beautiful.
There is no denying the fact that Alzheimer’s strips away much, but it doesn’t take away everything, as the Tony Bennett story exemplifies. May we all coalesce around this fact to make the world a much better place for our vulnerable, precious elders who are living with dementia. In doing so we will ensure their vitality never falls victim to antiquated care approaches or long-held negative beliefs such as “suffering from dementia is inevitable.”
When we meet a person who is living with a chronic, progressive disease like dementia and focus on where they are in the moment instead of harkening back to who they used to be, we see a capable individual. When we show them how fortunate we feel to be in their presence instead of treating them like a task to get checked off our list, they feel more valued. Success, purpose, peace, love, and happiness are all possible, and are rooted in this philosophy and approach.
Are we ready and able to unlock the functional potential of a person living with dementia by seeing and fostering their remaining abilities? Will we help them to live well in each new moment?
As I ponder these questions, I can’t help but think about a key credo of our Dementia Capable Care model: focus on “CAN do” instead of “can’t do.” I realize it applies to more than the person living with dementia; it applies to us as well. Therefore, we must ask both “What CAN the person in my care still do” and “What CAN I do to make it happen?”
A Dementia Capable Society
My hope for 2022 is that every person living with dementia is enabled to fulfill their potential and live with quality of life, in each moment. This can only happen through skilled and compassionate care. Let’s make a commitment and work together to create a Dementia Capable Society; a world where those living with dementia and their loved ones thrive!
I hope you will join me in the quest to make the most of the moment for yourself and for those in your care. Happy New Year!
Kim Warchol, OTR/L, is the founder and President of Dementia Care Specialists at Crisis Prevention Institute.
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