Over the past decade of working in healthcare I’ve come to realise the importance of love and attachment in dementia care. However; love, affection, meaningful touch all still seem to be taboo subjects, we’re told not to become ‘too attached’ to the people we care for, and there is confusion around what is appropriate when it comes to touch in dementia care.
Luke Tanner (2017) in his book Embracing Touch in Dementia Care explains the importance of touch and attachment for people living with dementia: ‘they can be extremely dependant on others to regulate their levels of stress and excitement, whatever their individual attachment style. In order to feel safe and secure they need to attach to others at times of under-stimulation and times of stress to find a comfortable place within themselves.’ (71).
Human contact releases oxytocin, also known as ‘the love hormone’ essentially it makes us feel good, and supports attachment. I couldn’t imagine not being physically close with those I have connections with. The same applies within care; if anything, a person with dementia may crave touch more especially at a time when their relationships may feel more fragmented and they may feel disconnected from society.
Music can help to strengthen relationships, taking the time to get to know personal musical preferences can help you learn so much about the person you’re caring for. You may connect at a deeper level through music, using meaningful touch alongside music can help to strengthen this connection, when used appropriately it can provide a feeling of comfort, security and… wait for it… love. It should absolutely be OK to say you love your residents, after all you are in their home, you are part of their family, it would only be natural that you feel affection for them, and this will be reciprocated.
Through music we can show our residents that we care for them, that we hear them, that we see them. Often carers ask me about the longer-term effects of music, and their concern that the resident doesn’t remember listening to music or taking part in a musical activity. My answer to this is always that even if the memory of the activity has gone, the feeling that the activity afforded is still very much there.
By providing moments of love, affection and attention, we can create feelings of attachment, comfort, security and warmth, we all deserve love.
I came across the poem, This is the Kind of Love we all Deserve by Lauren Jarvis-Gibson (2017) which although not written with dementia care in mind, is extremely poignant. I wanted to finish this post with a line from the poem:
“We deserve the kind of love that engulfs and showers us in hugs that make our grins grow wider. We deserve the kind of love that speckles us with fluttery kisses when our body aches from hard, dark days.
We all deserve the kind of love that does not leave…”
Happy Valentine’s Day