8 Ways to Say ‘I Love You’ to Someone with Advanced Alzheimer’s

Kristy Dewberry shares some simple tips that work for her when caring for her mother with Alzheimer's.

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- Posted on Feb 19, 2020

Two people go through a photo album

Mom’s mental state varies from day to day. The days when she recognizes me are a huge blessing. But on the days that she doesn’t know who I am, I don’t get the emotional connection I crave.

That is when I remind myself that my visits to her nursing home facility are for her, not just for me. I am there to show love and bring comfort and joy to her day—whether she recognizes me or not.

There are many ways to show affection to your loved one with advanced Alzheimer’s, even when they might not recognize you. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Sing or play songs that you know your loved one enjoys.

Music seems to linger longer than recognition of faces. She may not remember you that day, but it is very possible that she still remembers the lyrics to her favorite songs. Mom will often sing along, clap or nod her head to the beat when I play her some music.

2. Play nature-inspired sounds.

Mom and Dad frequently spent winters on the beach in Florida. Playing or streaming white noise, such as the soothing sounds of ocean waves crashing on the beach, was very relaxing for her. Your loved one might prefer the sound of rain, a crackling fire or birds chirping.

3. Bring your loved one a special treat.

Mom loves an occasional scoop of butter brickle ice cream, salty French fries or an icy cherry cola. Just remember to be patient as you feed her. Do it slowly, with small spoonfuls or short sips from a straw, so that she can savor both the flavor and the attention she is receiving.

4. Bring aromatherapy or a favorite scent.

Lavender and vanilla both have relaxing aromas. First, let her sniff the bottle and then gently massage a small amount into her hands or on the back of her neck and shoulders. Mom loves scalp massages as well. You can also bring a favorite or familiar fragrance to help evoke memories or emotions of happier times.

5. Go through family photos.

It’s possible some days to help her to retrieve memories, by going through photo albums or by watching family videos. Don’t try to force it, but if you your loved one is open to the suggestion of looking at photos or watching you go through your albums, it could be an opportunity to share memories with them. She will probably enjoy the attention even if memories aren’t sparked.

6. If the facility allows it, bring a pet.

Bringing your pet for a brief visit can be especially uplifting, especially if your loved one knew the pet prior to her memory loss. Mom wasn’t a big pet-lover, but she always enjoyed my schnauzer when she came to visit me and still seems to perk up when I bring Truffles for a visit.

7. Bring children for a visit.

The babies and small toddlers in your family bring joy to your loved one; although more than one at a time can cause anxiety. The younger the child the better because your loved one will be more interested in watching the baby rather than interacting with it.

8. Hold your loved one’s hand while watching an old flick.

I’ve collected DVDs from garage sales and found older movies on streaming services. Watching them brings joy to both of us. Even if Mom doesn’t know me that day, she will occasionally glance over at me and smile before returning to the show, content to have a friendly face next to her.     

Above all, remember that every visit with your loved one is a privilege, and just by showing up, you are showing them how much you care.

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