A Touch of the Familiar Can Aid Palliative Care

Posted on July 1, 2019

elder in bedroomRummage bags are among the more creative applications of a basic idea in the treatment of dementia: that familiar objects and settings can help reduce anxiety and aid in comfort. A rummage bag is exactly what it sounds like, a bag of various common objects provided to people with dementia in order to both provide potentially familiar stimulus, and allow the person to “rummage” which can be an anxiety-reducing behavior when someone feels lost or confused. The idea builds on an accepted approach to care for those with dementia which stresses familiarity. From rummage bags to keeping familiarity in mind when preparing a home for palliative care, anything you can do to help a person with dementia feel more at home is going to provide increased comfort.

Display Familiar Objects
Providing comfort is the central goal of palliative care, and anxiety stemming from the confusion and memory loss of dementia or Alzheimer's can be a major disruptor of comfort. In fact, this is one of the biggest arguments for providing palliative care in the home. Tools like rummage bags can help those in care homes, but nothing beats a familiar setting. In fact, one of the top care suggestions for dementia patients is to change as little as possible in their living space. You can also take steps to make the space even more comforting by adding comforting and normalizing objects. Beloved possessions, familiar art, and family pictures can all be displayed to this end. Candles too are a good way to both promote calm feelings and use scent to create familiarity. Scent is deeply connected to memory, and a candle in a scent that a person with dementia is familiar with or has used often before can create a feeling of familiarity and help this person access memories. It’s important to consider the safety issues though, from making sure flames are contained to opting for healthier, paraffin-free candle options.

How Familiarity Helps
A familiar space not only provides comfort to those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, but it can also help boost brain function and promotes engagement as well. A well-recognized photo, for instance, might get your loved one talking again about the people in the picture. Similarly, a familiar TV show can be comforting, while providing a social context for connection. Keeping someone with dementia aware of and connected to the people around them can be a struggle, so talking about or watching a TV show together can provide important time together.

In fact, active engagement with conversation or activities is huge for slowing the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s. So, creating a familiar and welcoming environment is an important part of palliative care in these cases. From reducing confusion and anxiety to promoting engagement, and even joy, the familiar is a powerful ally in easing the end of life.

For more information
For additional information and links to other related resources, please visit End With Care’s end-of-life topic page on Hospice Care and Palliative Care or our blog on Hospice Care, Comfort Care, & Palliative Care.

By freelance writer, Jane Zachery


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