People often tell me how hard it can be to feel connected to a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, especially if he or she has advanced disease. The Alzheimer’s Buddies program is one example of how you can keep that connection alive by approaching it in a different way.
Alzheimer’s Buddies is a response to the isolation many patients experience in the intermediate to late stages of Alzheimer's. The program, one of a number of activities for dementia patients we offer, teams undergraduate Harvard students with Hebrew Rehabilitation Center residents who have moderate to advanced Alzheimer’s.
The students give families a new window into connecting with their loved one. Said one student, “Families see the decline – we get to know the person and see what’s still there. We can say, ‘Here’s what you value about your loved one, and here’s what I see is still present – he or she isn’t gone.’ And that’s a message that families sometimes miss.”
Although there are other Alzheimer’s intergenerational programs, what’s unique here is that buddies are paired according to their shared interests, which helps to create a special bond. This approach is something to bear in mind if you’re looking for new ways to communicate with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s.
What has he or she enjoyed doing in the past? If it was gardening, pot some plants together; if it was music, sing or listen to music together. Give it some time – you may be surprised to see how these shared activities can spark something in your loved one and help you feel more connected, even if he or she can’t speak.