By Becky Jungkuntz

Dementia dance? What a strange way to talk about learning how to care for someone who is suffering from some form of dementia, a word that simply means a loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living. Yet there are some apt similarities to learning how to dance and learning how to care for someone with dementia.

When learning how to dance, there is clearly one person who leads and the other who follows. Sometimes when one is learning how to dance, those roles may be reversed in order to learn the steps. This is often the case in caring for a loved one with dementia. Long established roles often begin to change as children begin to take on caregiving roles or as one spouse learns how to do things around the house that he/she has never done before.

One thing quickly becomes clear, the person who is suffering from dementia can often no longer follow normal cues and directions. It’s not that they are trying to be frustrating or obstinate; their brain is simply no longer able to process verbal directions or the world around them in the way that they used to. Trying to force that person to follow your lead can simply create anger and frustration. The caregiver needs to learn to be flexible and, when safe, to follow the lead of their loved one.

As the person with dementia slowly declines, the caregiver is constantly having to learn new steps, new ways of adapting to their ever-changing needs. Just like there are many different dance steps, there are many different ways of accomplishing a goal while caring for someone with dementia. If one approach doesn’t work, one needs to adapt and try another.

Even in the midst of the challenges of “learning new steps,” there can still be the blessing of relationship and intimacy. Giving and receiving love can continue to happen even while the steps continue to change. As Christians, ultimately, our confidence lies in the “Lord of the Dance” – the one who reigns over each of us and is able to work for good even in the midst of the challenges of learning the Dementia Dance.

If you are interested in hearing more specific strategies for caring for someone with dementia or connecting with other caregivers, please consider joining us on April 26, from 9-12:00, at St. Luke Ann Arbor for a workshop called Learning the Dementia Dance sponsored by the Stephen Ministry of St. Luke Lutheran Church. There will be both a presentation and time for discussion. Call the church office at 734.971.0550 to register. Walk-ins are welcome.