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When The Heart Speaks

Dementia is affecting more and more people each and every year. In 2022 it was estimated that 10% of Americans 65 years of age and older had dementia. Another 22% were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment which can lead into dementia. Everyone of these individuals have challenges related to their diagnosis with those challenges being wide ranging from subtle to severe. And not just those suffering from the disease are affected but those who love them face their own challenges. Wide ranging emotions and questions can bombard us and leads to confusion. Questions such as: “Do they even remember me? Does it matter if I come by or talk with mom/dad? They don’t respond to my questions or seem to hear me! It’s no use!” And this is frustrating for you and for the one you love. This month I want to bring attention to and some understanding to us about When the Heart Speaks.

Our brain has two centers for memories: the hippocampus and the amygdala. The hippocampus holds the memories that are time stamped: dates, events that shaped us, how we behaved/acted during those years, the things we used the most, etc. If this part of our brain was symbolized by a bookcase it would be one of the less sturdy bookcases made of particle board and would be wobbly even when put together correctly! When a bout of dementia rocks the brain, books (memories) in this bookcase begin to fall off starting form the top shelf, which are the most recent memories and events. We notice this when a 98 year old woman comes rushing out of her room in a panic because she is late getting ready fro the dance her father is coming to pick her up for. She’s in her early teens and needs us to step into her reality at that moment and help her through this challenging time, lessening her panic and anxiety. These moments pass and can happen multiple times a day. What’s important at these times and when you are with your loved one is not the event, it’s how you make them feel in that moment.

In the center, or should I say heart, of the brain is the amygdala and it is here that these feelings and emotions, the way we make people feel is stored. Being in the center it is one of the last areas that is affected by the ravages of dementia. This makes it so critical to how we interact, treat and respond to our loved one as they will remember how we made them feel far longer than the trip to the mall or beach or wherever you may go or what you may do. Emotional connection is at the heart of what every human wants and this does not go away when dementia comes into our lives. It’s understandable when we experience frustration and even anger because 'It’s just not my mom/dad!” by putting our heart into the situation we bring compassion, curiosity and care into each interaction. When we calm our hearts to see the ways we can bring joy, love, peace, comfort to our loved ones, our world and definitely their world is safer and more secure. When the heart speaks, it is making life great every day.

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