We may not always be aware of it, but our way of relating to life is dependent on our way of relating to time. Breakfast comes before lunch and dinner, for example. If we haven’t already shopped for food in preparation, we know we’ll have to take care of that need before those meals. On a deeper level, our past experiences help to develop our personalities, and they provide a context for how we relate to people, places, and things around us—and how we relate to ourselves.
When older adults experience symptoms of dementia, they may lose touch with this experiential foundation. They may be living in the same place and cycling through the same routines they have been for years, but they feel lost. As loved ones and caregivers, we can help to remind them of the memories they’re struggling to access. But it may be more than just the memories they are grasping for. It may be the ability to relate that they long for even more.
Mindfulness meditation and dementia have one very important thing in common: They are strongly linked to the present moment. In fact, mindfulness practices can help our aging loved ones embody their strengths rather than focus on perceived weaknesses. Put another way, our time-sensitive perspective isn’t always a positive asset because the past and the future very often distract us away from the present. With all of this in mind, mindfulness meditation is great for older adults with dementia and for caregivers, as well—it’s great to do together!
Mindfulness Meditation Helps Adults with Dementia Accept and Be Where They Are
It’s hard to imagine how frustrating it is for an older adult with dementia to lose track of their sense of time and self. As a caregiver, when you’re already faced with a collection of diverse challenges, an older adult’s confusion can be frustrating. In those moments, you’re both feeling frustration in different ways, and an older adult with dementia may feel even more isolated because confusion and resentment are caught up in a feedback loop between you.
It’s probably much less helpful to try fitting the dementia patient back into an outdated way of experiencing life (through memories and the linear passage of time) and much more helpful to work with what you do have: this moment together.
For that purpose, we’ve developed a simple and relaxing meditation practice that encourages you both to be right where you are. The exercise will challenge both of you in different ways, but it will be powerfully important that you’re both doing it together. The ability to relate to the present is something you both have, and what you do have is more important than what you don’t.
Living with Dementia, Acting with Mindfulness
When aging adults with dementia begin to live more fully in the moment, they set a powerful daily example for the rest of us. When we can reframe our perspective, we may see that what is bothering and burdening us is really in the past or in the future, not in the present. So, why are we giving it so much of our present attention and energy? And why are we choosing to miss what is really happening right now because we’re crowding right now with back then or later on?
What we all have right now is the present moment. By supporting the aging adult in your care to accept and embrace what they are feeling and experiencing right now, you are honoring what is most real and powerful for both of you. This short, guided meditation is just the beginning of living a life in which we are more present with ourselves and each other. Even though age is a product of time, it doesn’t have to be bound by it if we allow ourselves to be mindful to the only moment that exists now.
Institute on Aging provides resources and services that empower aging adults to live gracefully and independently. You can check out our blog for more helpful articles and our comprehensive and personalized programs for neighbors in our community. For more information, reach out to us today.
Guided Meditation Music: “Relaxing,” BenSound.com