If aging is a part of a cycle from birth to growth to decline to death, is it a wonder then that there are similarities between babies and those in physical/mental decline? Spending a year working with babies while at the same time being in care facilities with my mom really gave me the immersive experience.
Recently, I was about to leave my mom’s place with my daughter and a man came up to me ready to engage in a discussion. His inflection told me that he was conversing even if the sounds coming out were not intelligible to me. I did my best to respond and keep the conversation going. My daughter just stood there looking at me like I was crazy, like maybe I was ready to be a resident, too. Not a day later the video came to my Facebook feed of the Father having a discussion with his toddler in much the same way I had just been engaging with the person with Alzheimer’s. Entering their worlds to engage is what we were both doing.
There are the obvious similarities with physical needs, such as feeding, bathing, dressing and grooming. There are also connections with senses, such as hearing music and the body just responding with movement. Toddlers will just let loose when the music moves them and so will my mom. She was barely awake the day there was a Luau, but there she was hula dancing!
The taste of sweet things, though liked by all ages, is very much heightened for those who are losing their taste and those who are experiencing it for the first time. There were several babies who turned 1 in the classroom and we got to witness them eating cookies or cake for the first time. That gleam in their eyes and the smiles on their faces was extraordinarily similar to that of my mom each time she eats ice cream!
As I was told recently at a seminar on Alzheimer’s disease, touch is very important. Just as babies touch to connect, so do those who are in cognitive decline. The sense of touch is making up for the other inputs of connection that are not necessarily registering, and as it is for babies, it provides great comfort.
Though their are many similarities between the two, an important distinction that was also made at this seminar is that adults in decline should always be afforded their dignity. Whereas a baby in only a diaper is considered cute, an adult in the same situation is not and it should never be considered acceptable.