Living Well with Dementia During COVID-19

By: Dr. Adrienne Ione

Formerly a fitness specialist with the U.S. Marine Corp. and a counselor in residential and clinical settings, Dr. Ione is now committed to the mind-body wellbeing of people ages 60 and greater, by utilizing an integrative therapeutic approach. Dr. Ione offers personal training, mindfulness/guided meditation, group classes, active capabilities therapy, and dementia assessment and care.

Click play above to listen to Dr. Adrienne Ione read this blog.

Dear reader (or listener). I am writing this with the intention of having a conversation with you. You being many labels, one of which is a person living with dementia during COVID-19. We’ll explore how you might be tapping into your cognitive reserves, resilience reservoirs and strength systems and what you can do, or how you can be, to feel a sense of settledness and balance in your world. Perhaps you have been feeling increasingly frustrated with a world that seems to make less and less sense — and the times when you communicate your needs, no one listens. And then, people around you start freaking out about a global pandemic and add to your already sometimes chaotic existence. In some ways, life for them might not be much different than it has been for you since diagnosis.

Look, I think you are incredibly talented, strong and creative. Maybe you are also scared, angry and sad. I think if we look at COVID-19 as a traumatic event, we can acknowledge the potential compounding effects of trauma (global pandemic) layered on trauma (dementia diagnosis), and how these impacts have reverberated throughout the cells in your body only to be trapped by your skin and never released. If released, this might free up space in your body for other experiences and emotions to take up residence. I wonder what might happen if you and others around you tapped into histories of strengths and resiliencies? How might the harmonizing of bodies — the dementia body and the undementia body — begin to feel? Would it be freeing? Momentarily affirming? Compoundingly motivating? I don’t know. 

OK, so if one of your goals while living in a pandemic and with dementia are also to enhance or maintain your overall well-being, then you might strip away the labels and ask: What does it mean for me to feel balanced? To feel like I am thriving? How does real happiness look? Would I know it if I saw it? Is it a 28-day program that suggests you can experience a deep sense of inner well-being? Is real happiness any number of messages inscrolled on license plate frames reading: “Happiness is shopping” or “Happiness is letting my dog drive?” (Really? Because that sounds a bit dangerous to me, especially if the dog is texting while driving.) Is it any of these? Maybe it is all of these? Or perhaps it is something else entirely. 

Some think of real happiness as sun shining days with blue skies abound and no clouds for as far as the human eye can see. Others define real happiness as that vacation taken to an exotic, wonderous and magical place. Some seek to achieve well-being by devouring books, attending retreats, eating certain foods and on and on the list goes — all in a desperate attempt to achieve what has been marketed to us as the ultimate real happiness. And yet, can we ever truly see real happiness? 

I did, just the other day. While on the wide-open ocean waters of Commencement Bay and paddling along on my board … there it is. Real happiness is about 100 yards in front of me. In the form of a 225-meter-long and 32-meter-wide cargo ship named REAL HAPPINESS. Now, surmising from the sun-faded and salt-washed black and red paint, clearly this ship has been out to sea hundreds of times over. There has been obvious patchwork done with welding of sheet metal onto various places along the hull. There was apparent rust and excessive barnacle growth. Despite these, what some might call, unfavorable conditions, it floated. It was in this moment of reading the ship’s name and taking in a sense of the ship’s history, I recognized the parallels between real happiness and life. There is no distinction between the two — happiness is life and life is happiness. The ship floating is analogous to human happiness or life. The watertight vessel represents a human’s breathing. 

Marcia Sirota, a Canadian psychiatrist, purports that real happiness has four receptive sites: heart, mind, eyes and arms. The four sites must all be open. Another group of scientists suggests that human connection is the key to happiness. For Aristotle, “Happiness depends on ourselves.” What is happiness for you?

Using Sirota’s definition of happiness as a framework and Resmaa Menakem’s anchors to settle the body, I invite you to experiment with four mind-body practices I’ve designed for you. Perhaps one will lead you to feeling a sense of well-being. Maybe you’ll even feel real happiness.

HEART: Hum. And, next time you are around a non-dementia bodied person, start humming. If the person is a little dense and they don’t initially accept your invitation to join in, offer a hand gesture or eye movement that indicates you’d like them to join in. Bodies that hum together can get stuff done together … like experience real happiness.

MIND: Eat a piece of fruit or vegetable today. Your thoughts will thank you. When we consume fresh fruits and vegetables, we increase our antioxidant levels, slow cellular aging and our cognitive functioning is lubricated.

EYES: Sit somewhere, anywhere, with your eyes open. Notice the sights in the larger environment. Hone in on the farthest sight you can detect or imagine. If you’re in a room, then start by noticing outside, moving to inside the structure where your room is, other rooms, your room, the furniture you are on, your skin and then inside your body. Move from out to in as many layers as feels comfortable and safe. Now, repeat this process in reverse. Start close (inside your body) and move farther and farther away. 

ARMS: Add softness to your world by wrapping your arms around you. Give yourself a hug. Or touch your arms. Feel your skin. Notice sensations: temperature, texture, smell. Offer self-massage of your arms. Add lotion or essential oil (mixed with a carrier oil — be aware of possible skin irritation).  

I hope your relationship with yourself feels a bit more tender than it did when you started reading (or listening). Keep tapping into your cognitive reserves, your resilience reservoirs and strength systems. As you settle your body, other bodies around you will become more settled.

[1] Menakem, R. (2017). My grandmother’s hands. Central Recovery Press. [2] Juan Ángel Carrillo, M Pilar Zafrilla, and Javier Marhuenda (2019). Cognitive Function and Consumption of Fruit and Vegetable Polyphenols in a Young Population: Is There a Relationship? Foods. 2019 Oct; 8(10): 507

Leave a Reply