10 Mindful Ways to Care for One With Dementia

Whether a family member or a professional caring for a person with dementia, whether at the beginning, middle or the end of what can be a very long journey, you may appreciate the following dementia care tips. Born out of my experiences as a meditator, daughter of loved one with Alzheimer's, volunteer with Zen Hospice Project, and psychotherapist with a geriatric practice, this list points to ten ways of being in the care relationship that can greatly benefit both you and the one receiving your care:

  1. Practice mindfulness: By bringing your full attention without distraction to this moment, this activity, it is possible to discover rest right in the middle of chaos - This place of rest is always available. You need only turn towards it.
  2. Care in community: You cannot do this alone - Finding and cultivating a community of mindful care, no matter how small, can be a tremendous source of support, that will help carry you through the ups and downs of the long-term care experience.
  3. Understand dementia: Effectively relating to a person with dementia requires that you have a wise understanding of the illness, and the many ways it affects the person, mentally, physically, socially, spiritually throughout its progression.
  4. Fully live this moment: Recognizing this is the only moment you really have, and also the only one the other person is capable of entertaining, you drop your worries about the future, and you stop wishing for a past that no longer exists.
  5. Take in the gifts: You learn to recognize and appreciate the sometimes hidden gifts in the care experience - Caring is a two-way street where the recipient of care can also be giver and teacher of wisdom, patience, love, authenticity, . . .
  6. Bring your whole self to the experience: Only by inviting all of your emotions, even the difficult ones, can you allow true compassion and love to arise, both for you and the other person.
  7. Welcome everything, push away nothing: You don't have to like what is arising. It is not your job to approve or disapprove. It is your task to pay attention to the changing experience, whatever that is.
  8. Take care of yourself: Physically, emotionally, spiritually - This is a long distance course, and you need to be well in order to care well. This means recognizing your limits and having to say no sometimes, or asking others to step in.
  9. Stop, breathe, and listen: Taking the time to listen to yourself and to the other person - This means slowing down, and shifting from our habitual busyness to a more receptive mode.
  10. Cultivate don't know mind: Be open, be receptive. And let go of agendas, roles, and expectations. Understanding this, you can stay very close to the actual experience, and let the situation inform your actions. Living each moment as a completely new moment.

Not taking away the grief, the challenges, the frustrations. Not swimming upstream against the reality of the illness. Instead, adopting a new way of being that leaves the door open to love, joy and compassion in the care relationship.