"This is my mother."
I was startled by the statement, but even as a newbie to dementia, I knew enough to smile and go along with it. The lady to whom she was referring looked older than her, but only by a few years. Ten at the most. But the lady seemed to agree with the relationship, answered to "Mother!" when she spoke to her, and they moved around the room arm-in-arm, so who was I to question?
I did, question, though. Privately, I asked one of the nurses, who laughed at me. "No, of course not. They're almost the same age. Maybe Mavis looks like how Jean remembers her mother looking, and she believes Mavis is her mother. And now Mavis believes it too. So what's the harm?"
That was my first exposure to the power of connectedness. Jean had family who weren't thrilled with the relationship, but went along with it. Mavis was a single lady with few connections. They both benefited.
Connectedness is essential to well-being. The Eden alternative says:
"CONNECTEDNESS—belonging; engaged; involved; connected to time, place, and nature."1
I would go farther to say that friends are essential to well-being. Elders are proud of their families, and love them beyond measure, and those connections are essential, but they often feel guilt regarding the time their care takes away from their children's (niece's, grand children's etc.) lives. Friends, on the other hand, are peers, and a visit from a friend is like gold.
Friends help friends. M. doesn't often leave her room, so J. goes and sits with her and they chat. J. gets anxious, so L. spends time with her. A whole table of residents worry when G. doesn't show up for meals. E. is physically disabled, but is a friend to H., who is cognitively impaired. These kind of connections send an important message: YOU ARE NEEDED. An elder who is experiencing multiple physical challenges can feel they are not worth anything any more. Connectedness says, that's not true.
There are other kinds of connections that can also be important. L. loves to go to choir. It gives her a sense of purpose. The others welcome her, and replace her music if she loses it (which happens frequently.) This connection adds to her well-being. H. plays his harmonica, and spontaneous groups gather to sing. The glow on his face describes how connected he feels. D. loves the dog, and comes to visit several times a day. M. loves to feel the sun on her face, and is happiest when someone wheels her out to the garden.
The key to connectedness is to know the person. What makes L. feel connected leaves V. feeling cold and troubled. It's about interests, personality and what brings joy.
And sometimes it's about humour.
Mr. T., who is virtually blind, leaned across the table to talk to Mrs. S. "You are pretty." Mrs. S.'s face lit with one of her winning smiles. "Mr. T., " I whispered across the table, "are you flirting?"
Ignoring me completely, he looked in Mrs. S.'s eyes and said, "I'm flirting with you."
Now that's connection!