“Holistic” is one of those buzzwords that’s become so trendy recently, it can be easy to lose sight of its true meaning. But the term holds real significance in health care — especially when it comes to more complex illnesses like dementia. Holistic treatment approaches involve organic healing tools and human intuition, without a focus on pharmaceutical drugs. Some of the more common holistic practices are yoga, meditation, reiki, aromatic therapy, visualization, massage, and Ayurveda.
But a holistic philosophy can be more broadly applied to our everyday lives. It’s about looking at and caring for the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. Surrounding environments, attitudes, and relationships have a huge impact on how we feel both mentally and physically, deeply influencing our overall quality of life. For these reasons, a holistic approach to caring for those with dementia is becoming increasingly popular, putting independence first and helping patients with dementia feel better and live happier lives.
What Caregivers Can Learn from Holistic Housing
Forward-thinking initiatives like the Green House Project, Beatitudes Campus, and the Pioneer Network follow a holistic approach to creating residences for older adults. Focusing on personalized care, they feature individual units so residents can live independently and remain part of a larger community, and structure schedules and care around the patients in novel ways. This style of long-term care allows older adults with dementia maintain their dignity and independence while retaining access to professional staff and medical services.
These new housing projects have learned that older adults with dementia often regain their sense of joy when they’re given the freedom to live life on their own terms. As Beatitudes director Tena Alonzo shares, “When you have dementia, we can’t change the way you think, but we can change the way you feel.” These holistic initiatives can offer caregivers further insight into creating a safe and joyful space at home for their own aging loved ones with dementia. Among the takeaways are suggestions related to food, environment, and routine.
- Making mealtimes personal. At the Green House Project, many residents help prepare meals with staff members, since it increases their sense of independence. Involving your aging loved one with meal preparation shows them they’re needed and trusted: from choosing the meals to going grocery shopping, asking for your loved one’s help and opinions gives them agency. Pick simple meals that your loved one can realistically help with. Then turn on their favorite music, pour some drinks, and make meal preparation a fun bonding experience.
- Respecting their privacy and freedom. Another aspect that these new holistic residences have in common is their focus on privacy. Making sure older adults with dementia have access to their own space is key to creating a high quality of life. While their illness might preclude them from doing certain activities or thinking clearly, it doesn’t mean they no longer benefit from time on their own. Similarly, maintaining their freedom of choice over simple everyday things is also important. Getting to choose when they want to eat, what they eat, and what activities they do adds to their sense of agency. Caregivers can help their aging loved one feel both respected and comforted by giving them privacy and freedom within a structured daily routine.
- Empowering older adults with dementia. Holistic housing initiatives are also proving how important engagement is for older adults with dementia. And engaging on their level. Television may provide diversion, but is it really something they respond to? One of the issues that patients face in a nursing home—or sometimes even while aging in place—is feeling removed from their lives. When older adults are unable to communicate verbally, it’s easy for caregivers to underestimate the depth of their loved one’s emotional landscape and other abilities. Instead, we must encourage older adults to participate in their everyday routine rather than become passive spectators. Tasks like eating meals, social time, and listening to music can then become sources of happiness. This, in turn, encourages feelings of motivation, connection, and investment in life.
How Holistic Treatments Help Those with Dementia
In addition to emphasizing agency and independence, caregivers might also want to incorporate holistic practices into everyday care for their aging loved ones; treatments like yoga or meditation can be extremely beneficial. Unfortunately, older adults with dementia often live isolated lives, shut off from normal communication and human connection. Research shows that after participating in holistic practices like yoga, people with dementia are far more interactive, showing greater signs of both self-awareness and awareness of others. Group activities like meditation, music, and movement therapy, meanwhile, offer a way for older adults to communicate with each other through a shared experience without needing to use words.
A holistic mindset and approach to care can help us stay focused on how our loved one feels in their mind, body, and spirit. While dementia may have taken some of their mind, loved ones are still able to feel good in their bodies and hearts. And as caregivers, we can help them achieve these feelings of joy and contentment as often as possible.
If you want to find out how to better support your aging loved one with dementia, Institute on Aging is here to serve you. Get in touch today to find out how we can help.