Me, Mum, Dementia & Re-Connecting through Touch

by Yasmin Lang, Aged Care Nurse / Massage Therapist, Byron Bay

I was invited to give a presentation at an Aged Care Centre, to bring awareness of the benefits and support massage can provide. I did not know what I was going to talk about until I stood before fifty or so residents and staff and began sharing what felt right from my own experience.

My mother suffered from dementia, and she came to a point when she no longer recognised me or knew my name. Having a conversation only created confusion for her, so I used to hold her hands and then gently massage them, and the feeling between us re-awakened and she called me daughter!Could it be that we have become so very far removed from safe and nurturing touch, and especially so, as we grow older?

It all began when I visited her with a gift of hand lotion. At first it was awkward and she did not like being touched – perhaps the closeness was too much for her, perhaps she had become very removed and isolated from touch and any true loving connection, especially in a nursing home where the only physical contact was to assist her in everyday personal care needs, which was not always pleasant. In the beginning she struggled and her resistance came up, then she began to relax, melt and fall into a light sleep… and within 15 minutes she became peaceful and her restless nervous hands were still, just being.

On another visit when again she did not recognise me, her eyes lit up when I held the bottle of hand lotion in my hands and she said, “yes, please!” We were communicating!

A few weeks later I observed her in a repetitive anxious state along with restless legs and lack of sleep. I wrapped her feet in steaming warm towels and then gently massaged the hardness from her legs and feet. She relaxed and calmed down and slept like a baby afterwards.

My mother had spent her formative years in Wales during the Great Depression and then the Second World War, and these experiences had shaped her. It was obvious how stifled her life had become. She had learned how to survive but found herself unable to see outside this wall she had erected around herself, always worried about money and stockpiling food: she lived in a climate of fear and poverty consciousness. Eventually, dementia had taken away her memories, worries and her life-long struggle with asthma. Yes, even the asthma was cured, leaving her with a wide-eyed childlike innocence, and we became playful and funny in each other’s company. Not many words were needed to communicate and yet, we were communicating heart to heart in a true way, and our new relationship had begun through a gentle loving touch that would re-connect us to ourselves, each other and the harmony within.

These days a new relationship has developed through this experience, for me to be working with and around people with dementia and their families. I might add that it wasn’t always an easy road, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, where I would almost lose my way. Usually, when I used to feel sorry or sympathetic towards another who I perceived to be suffering, I would get drained and exhausted. But to shut myself down, cold, hard and detached and to not feel, did not work for me either.

During this time I had much healing and support in the way of healing sessions with Serge Benhayon and other Universal Medicine practitioners, and I attended Universal Medicine workshops where I began to feel more of myself and understand the need for more loving care, nurturing and healing within myself. It was only then that I was truly able to develop an understanding toward others. I began to feel a warm detachment – compassion for a person. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s quite the opposite: I can accept that the person is exactly where they are on their own journey, just as I am, and there is no way I would want to interfere with their process, change them or provide a safety mattress to prevent them from feeling where they are at; nothing to fix, simply, I love them just the way they are and they can feel that, too.

It is now possible for me to offer my assistance and true care without the entanglement and emotional attachment. I am more loving with myself, playful, and able to get out of my own way and offer a true service.

242 thoughts on “Me, Mum, Dementia & Re-Connecting through Touch

  1. The last few lines you write Yasmin are most interesting, that you are observing the state of wellbeing another is in but not becoming embroiled in their emotional state. That is such a powerful way to support others and yet to not become emotional about something is often seen as being cold and uncaring. I have felt this many times where there has almost been this pressure to act emotionally, cry or becoming entwined in the imbalance. Yet if we look at it, the way you share has much more meaning to it, being aware of another and their process with no need to absorb it in order to show support.

    1. Thank you Stephen for your comment, I can relate to what you have shared. Yasmin makes a great point by remaining with herself and observing people, and choosing to love them unconditionally (no matter what state they are in). This way, it’s more beneficial for both parties. We can feel like we are “doing” something by getting involved but actually the stillness of our love offers so much more.

      1. Thank you Melinda,” We can feel like we are “doing” something by getting involved but actually the stillness of our love offers so much more” – this has become more and more obvious to me and in fact in caring for my elderly parents at different times, both having had dementia, and also in friends who have been dying this is very easy to see. We also need this kind of holding love with our friends and in everyday encounters when often there is a lot of nervous energy or anxiousness in another and by our being very still it allows the other to settle themselves.

  2. There is so much in what you have just shared. The connection you felt with your mother when you brought it back to touch. It clearly connected with a part of her brain and she felt the connection and understood it to be a tender touch rather than a functional touch.

  3. I am also struck by the ability to walk beside someone and know they are walking the path their life and choices have offered them. Not in judgement, as we are walking the life our choices and life have offered us. It is only when we go into comparison that we decide one is better than the other, when we simply walk beside each other it is much more about love and support.

  4. The healing power of a loving touch seems to have been highly underestimated for way too long. As you have demonstrated in this very beautiful sharing, no matter what the situation we find ourselves in, a gentle, loving touch can be the difference between feeling alone and feeling connected to another, something most of us long for.

  5. You make some great points in your blog Yasmin, thankyou, including how important our own loving self care is particularly in challenging situations. My normal default is to stress out, so this is a great reminder of how much I need to return to supporting myself when I feel upset in some way.

  6. Thank you Yasmin for your blog. To totally accept oneself and others is huge, especially when we are dealing with people with Dementia, as the road to connecting with them is often difficult and arduous, yet connecting with a person in this state is a test of one’s ability to stay connected to oneself. To accept that this is their journey and through this I feel we all gain insights into how our lives are affected by every decision we make and applied within our life.

  7. That loving touch I have found has helped me to observe and accept my own choices, allowing myself to see that the ill choices never have come from me, thus making it easier to detach from, compared to when I believe that I am the source of the ill. Which in turn has allowed me to observe, understand and love others. Even in the face of my previous choices, right now I can choose to move in a more gentle and loving way, and even in the face of another’s choices that same choice to be gentle and loving remains. Thank you Yasmin.

  8. Wow what beautiful care you gave your mum, you can really feel the absolute love and care you have for her, and how this just melted her, after all … none of us can resist love and tenderness for long.

    1. It also sets a marker for how we can be with ourselves, too – giving ourselves that same and tender touch, and moving in a gentle and loving way deepens our level of self-care, and so self-love. If none of us can resist love and tenderness for long, then it makes sense that our resistance to feel and give this to ourselves is finite, too.

      1. Yeah I love it, we can’t resist our own love… It’s like being thirsty and finding this incredible well of fresh pure spring water inside us.

  9. Your gorgeous blog is a beautiful reminder of how very special and powerful gentle loving touch is and tenderness and care is something that we all naturally love.

  10. I love what you have expressed about truly supporting another Yasmin. Accepting and honouring that “the person is exactly where they are on their own journey, just as I am, and there is no way I would want to interfere with their process, change them or provide a safety mattress to prevent them from feeling where they are at; nothing to fix, simply, I love them just the way they are”. I know from experience at times I prefer being rescued because I see myself as weak and incapable, but when someone supports me in the way that you describe, I start to see myself as more capable. This type of support is immensely empowering.

  11. I love rereading your blog Yasmin, it brings a depth of care that humanity has long forgotten. A communication that is soul to soul and where words need only be felt and not spoken. The true language of love.

    1. I am with you as you share Kim as there is a communication of the soul where words are only felt and can be seen and felt as eyes meet, the knowing in the eyes that here was someone who held something, quality, a very akin to what I know

    2. I agree Kim Weston, Yasmin re-surrects a quality in care that we have lost and it is my experience too that a lot of elderlies respond to tender touch as that is something they do not get in this way as much if at all.

  12. Yasmin it shows that at times no words need to be spoken for two people to feel a connection to each other or re-connection with themselves… just a look in the eyes, a tender touch or loving smile can hold so much communication. Beautiful to read of how your Mum responded to being touched and massaged.

  13. What a lovely connection you made with your mother Yasmin holding your mothers hand and gently massaging it. It is something we do not do enough of and yet as your mother showed we can respond to this so much more than words. I remember at my brother’s funeral I could see one of my relations were struggling, so I put my hand gently on their shoulder and held them, and they were able to let go. It is easy to underestimate how healing a simple loving touch can be.

  14. This is very inspiring Yasmin. Your experience is testimony to how essential it is to be lovingly touched and also how essential it is for the health and well-being of the carer to offer “true care without the entanglement and emotional attachment”.

  15. Very gorgeous Yasmin. You have clearly show how love knows no boundaries as when we meet another with absolute love, as you have shared, we hold them in the love they are in essence. The quality of love is universal and is known by the hearts of all. Beautiful to feel how in developing a greater quality of care and love for yourself, you are able to offer and share greater quality of care and love with your clients.

  16. This is so beautiful what you brought to your mother and the group of people you presented to; amazing work. It would be lovely to hear if you are still holding these presentations and how they are going. It is also amazing what a simple thing as a hand massage can do for another person, re-connecting through this form of touch can be deeply healing on levels we probably cannot even fathom.

  17. Thank you Yasmin for a beautiful sharing of meeting your mother with a loving touch and true compassion. It is so freeing to be able to step out of the emotional sympathy and hold a person in love as they continue on their own journey without any fixing or wanting to make better.

  18. ‘It is now possible for me to offer my assistance and true care without the entanglement and emotional attachment. I am more loving with myself, playful, and able to get out of my own way and offer a true service.’ This is super supportive for anyone who is a carer or knows someone with a similar condition, rather than being sympathetic or emotional to another we can offer true support and inspire another to deeply connect and allow another to just simply ‘be’, without any picture or neediness on our part.

  19. That’s my experience too Yasmin, sympathy and feeling sorry for what someone else has to go through is very draining and exhausts the body. With becoming more aware and present in my own body, in my work with (older) people I feel I’ve let go of the idea I have to ‘rescue’ them but just be with them being my lovely self which leaves me vital and joyful.

  20. Understanding that a person is where he or she is in his/her journey is crucial to stop a needy relationship. This is especially crucial for a relationship with someone who has no memories. Then it opens the door to a new purpose: (re-)connection. The beauty of it is that it meets someone where it is, which is beautiful in itself.

  21. This is so beautiful Yasmin. The power of touch is incredible and your blog shows that it is the energetic quality of our touch that determines whether or not someone is truly supported to heal.

  22. I had one of my close relatives in hospital for several years with Alzheimer’s. Half way through their stay, they lost the ability to communicate and touch was the only thing left and I saw how honest the communication became because it is not possible to lie with the way we touch someone.

  23. It’s beautiful to feel how there is so much more to communicating with another than just words. I also appreciated Yasmin how you developed your own relationship with others and their illness and disease, in a way that didn’t leave you feeling exhausted or drained. Compassion isn’t sympathy or the opposite coldness, but a loving detachment that totally respects and understands ourselves and our choices, and another and theirs, to be exactly where we are and need to be as part of our evolution.

  24. It must be difficult for someone you love to no longer recognise you. It was very touching to read about how you cared for your mum and how touch helped rekindle that connection between the two of you.

  25. I like the way you describe a ‘warm detachment’ you now have for the people you work with. I work in an environment where it’s easy to become emotionally attached. On the days where I let this happen I come home feeling exhausted. Your blog is a reminder that allowing others to be, without any investment from me, is a very loving thing to do for all concerned.

  26. It is very interesting to read this as one who works in social care where the ‘reasons for touch’ are made quite clear. It is of course necessary to make it clear that touch must be used appropriately but to make a connection with a person is not one of the reasons given. It makes a lot of sense to me that touch would support connection with a person with Dementia, one who has become withdrawn and checked-out from their body. An appropriate and loving touch is something we should perhaps at to the list or ‘reasons for touch’ in our social care sector.

  27. I have come to see, from the experiences in my life, that as we have relied so much on the words another speaks to understand what is going on for them, when they lose the ability to communicate in this way it becomes very difficult to connect to them. Both my late parents lost the ability to communicate, in different ways, in the latter years of their lives. To begin with it was very frustrating trying to communicate with them, but day by day we learned a whole raft of strategies to do so, at times some turning frustration into unbridled hilarity.. The one thing from these experiences that really impacted on me is that we live in a very precious body and cannot afford to take any part of it for granted, for when one of the parts stops working, life will, without doubt, be very challenging for the person and for those around them.

  28. Gosh this is beautiful – gentle and nurturing touch is something that many crave and is hugely supportive in settling the body. It can do a lot more than words at times.

    1. I agree MW. Sometimes a simple touch is all we need. It’s something that we miss, and the power of it is clear in Yasmin’s blog.

  29. After reading your blog Yasmin I cannot help but feel how ‘surviving life’ with the walls we create around us to protect us from hurt also does not allow us to bring true care, true quality or true love into the equation of our overall life.

  30. The power of loving touch is huge and something that gets missed out quite regularly in our day and in our health care system. A loving non imposing tender touch does wonders for helping someone to connect back to themselves and who they truly are. Thank you Yasmin for sharing.

  31. I have a relative in his late eighties showing signs of dementia. What I saw was that he can become easily confused and frustrated. I have found the best support for him was very similar to what you’ve shared Jasmin about your experience with your mum. Also I have found one of the best supports is to not join their frustration but to stay connected with ourselves and simply choose to connect with them lovingly without the need to fix anything.

  32. Amazing and super inspiring sharing. So beautiful to feel how connection like this can settle and bring someone back. Too often we hold back and communicate on a superficial level when the call is to go much deeper.

  33. I just think this is the most beautiful blog which highlights the intelligence of the body that knows complete love.

  34. People with dementia have made choices that have removed them from the rest of the world and from God. How powerful the human touch is that even they are brought back (even if temporarily) to some feeling that is very human, but also beyond human.

  35. I was very touched by your writing especially regarding your relationship with you mum. Its great that you have found a way to deepen your relationship without the need for lots of words. I can imagine it can be very upsetting when your mother does not recognise you, but I don’t sense that from you, only a deep appreciation of the time you get to spend with each other.

  36. The only care that truly cares, is the one that comes without judgment and that is what you describe so beautifully in your blog, your warmth and sweetness is felt in the story of your reconnection with your mother, I am truly touched by this sharing.

  37. When we come to offer true care to someone we can only do so when we are first able to offer this loving care towards ourselves in our daily lives. Thank you Yasmin for a beautiful story of reconnection to your mother through you tender loving touch.

  38. Beautifully simple, I loved how you built up your communication with touch allowing your mum to feel safe and reassured by your presence, it goes to show that we can always rely on our senses to communicate with us even when we may feel everything else is lost, it is always remarkable how the human body responds and how that touch goes far deeper than just the physical.

  39. We can become so far removed from loving touch and feelings that resistance can rise up against what actually feels more settling and natural. But the more I allow myself to feel the difference between being in the supportive, loving situation and what running away from that contact and/or situation brings (normally I am left feeling cold, grumpy, emotional etc) the resistance reduces as the appreciation and preference to be more loving increases.

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