Former carer and scent expert Linda Harman explains how to help a loved one with dementia to enjoy Spring
Spring is just around the corner, and when the sun is out, everything looks brighter, more vibrant and joyful. My friends who live with dementia enjoy this turn of events just as much as the rest of us.
As the days grow longer and warmer, we all feel better for seeing blue sky and feeling some sunshine on our skin. I used to take my mother for a short walk in a woodland close to her care home – it was wonderful to see her reaction to the carpet of bluebells there, and see her reveling in the freedom and fresh air – even though I was on high alert for her tripping over something on the uneven track where we walked.
Even without words, she let me know that she enjoyed the expedition in every sense. My perfumer friends would describe the air as smelling faintly floral with a hint of fresh green and woody undertones. To Mum and me it just smelled great, and, yes, bluebells do smell – when there are that many of them they smell quite a lot!
Seeing her reaction convinced me more than ever that we have the balance between safeguarding and freedom so completely wrong in most care models. The contribution of freedom of movement to quality of life is indisputable – but too many people living with dementia are denied it. The argument given is that there are too many hazards outside; my answer to that is – please design the outside areas of care facilities so that people can go in them without constant supervision!
Our senses make a great contribution to our wellbeing. Tune into them and you will enjoy a sense of springtime; the sight of bright green grass and new leaves, the sound of birds busily nest- building, the feel of warm sunshine or a breeze and, of course, the smell of fresh air, of hyacinths and bluebells and the distinctive scent of lawns being cut!
If you are visiting a relative with dementia, help them to go outside, even if only for a few minutes. If mobility is an issue, use a wheelchair. And talk to them, even if they do not appear to understand, or participate.
A study in the USA confirmed that the emotion of activities is very important for people with dementia. The lead author Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez said; “Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter. Frequent visits and social interactions, exercise, music, dance, jokes, and serving patients their favourite foods are all simple things that can have a lasting emotional impact on a patient’s quality of life and subjective well-being.” And Spring is the perfect inspiration to enjoy all of these experiences…