One of my visits to Emma recently did not go as well as I had hoped. When I arrived, she seemed quite distressed and it was unsettling to see her this way. Her focus was elsewhere, but she still reached for my hands. She held them very tightly and then tried to bite me, shouting and getting quite angry. I never take this personally or to heart, as I have learnt that people living with dementia can misinterpret the information from their senses, especially when it comes to sights and sounds. This can lead to them misunderstanding the world around them and make them very sensitive to their environment.
I tried to comfort Emma by talking to her calmly and stroking her fingers with my thumbs in a soothing manner, but this didn’t help. I gently removed my hands and stepped away. I have found that, sometimes, removing myself and returning a few minutes later seems to help, as it provides space and time for the person to settle. But, sadly, this didn’t help the situation at hand.
I felt I needed to identify why Emma was so distressed, as distress is often a way of someone trying to communicate something to you. It could have been because Emma was disorientated, frightened or anxious. Or it could have been her trying to communicate an unmet need, such as pain or discomfort from an infection or constipation, or hunger or thirst. It’s important to find the source of distress, as there is always a reason behind it, no matter how small.
I spoke to a carer, as I was concerned about Emma. She informed me that she had been like this all day, and that she was unsure of the reason for it. I went home troubled, trying to think what it could be.
On my next visit, I decided to bring in some fresh daisies (which I seem to have plenty of in my garden!). Emma would often tell me how she loved these little flowers, because, although they are weeds, they are so simple and pretty. When I arrived, I enquired how Emma was today. The carer said that she was quite agitated again.
On entering Emma’s room, her radio was on. Although it is quite nice to hear voices, as it sounds like someone is there in the room keeping you company, it was quite loud and the advertisements were rather annoying. I wondered if this had anything to do with Emma’s behaviour. It had not been playing on my last visit, but maybe it had just been turned off because she was expecting company. It was a long shot, but I thought it was certainly worth a try. I lowered the sound and then went over to Emma’s bed. She reached out for my hands, held them tightly, brought them up to her cheek and closed her eyes.
I laid the daisies down on her bedside table and decided to try the bird song recording on my phone that had previously brought her so much pleasure (read more in my recent story, Revisiting Emma). Bird song is very relaxing and therapeutic. She held my hands with her eyes still closed and a little smile appeared as she seemed to drift off to sleep. I kept hold of her hands and gently stroked them, happy to see her calm and relaxed.
When the carer came in to end my visit, she commented on how calm Emma was and asked what had happened. I explained about the volume of the radio and how I’d swapped it for calming bird song – something that Emma loves and had responded well to during an earlier visit. The carer agreed on how relaxing and peaceful the bird calls sounded. I have now bought Emma a CD so that she can have bird song playing in her room more often and I am hoping that having it in the background will bring her a sense of serenity in her room.