Amazing things can happen with folks who are living with dementia. They can start speaking intelligible words after months of muteness. They can start relating and smiling again. They can move their previously frozen limbs. They can sing entire songs. They can show flashes of insight. So many possible surprises.

However, the conditions have to be right.

First and foremost, the person needs to be given the time, and the mental and emotional space to BE. That means no rushing, no outpacing, no talking over, no ignoring, no assuming. Instead, we are to practice being present for them.

How does that work?

First I take a chair and I sit . . . down. Down at the person’s level, mirroring her own sitting. And I take the time  to relax into my body, and to let my mind settle. Becoming aware of the sensations in my body, and of breath. Dropping below the habitual level of discursive thinking and emotional reactivity. I create space within my  own mind. Sitting with her, I practice what is commonly called mindfulness.

Something usually happens then. Mindfulness starts working its magic not just on me, but also the person I am sitting with.

I notice my friend’s body starts to relax, and I can feel her mind loosening as well. There is an overall sense of joint resting within a vast expanse.  For her this is especially important, as the newly created space and stillness gives the tenuous connections in her brain a chance to take again. She can ‘re-ment’. She was mute and now she tells me “thank you”.

If electrodes were taped on my friend’s brain,  I am pretty sure, we would see dramatic changes in her brain’s activity and connectivity. Mindfulness by proxy . . . Maybe a new avenue for neuroscience research?

This article was filed under mindfulness practice, neuroscience.

10 Responses to “Mindfulness By Proxy: Giving the Demented Brain Space to Rement”

  1. chariklia

    The article is wonderful! it would be more useful if there was some research to support the claims. Is there? I know ‘mindfulness’ from other uses, but AD , it would be more creatable with some research , even if observational study to back up the claims . thanks

    • Marguerite

      Yes, it would be (to have research to back up experiential based claim). I am in process of reaching out to neuroscience community to explore possibility of such research.

  2. Lori La Bey

    I would love to set up a time to chat by phone with you and learn more about what you are doing. You just might make an interesting guest on my radio show Alzheimer’s speaks.

    Looking forward to hearing back from you


  3. David Lazaroff

    You are describing how persons with dementia reflect those around them. By being mindful, you create the space for the person to be mindful.

    If you were to sit with the person with dementia and be distracted and anxious, they would reflect your way of being and have a miserable time.

    This is one example of how we create the world for others. We do this for everyone, however the effect is more apparent in those with cognitive decline who can not choose how to respond to the world and rely on external cues to fashion their response.

    • Marguerite

      Yes, that’s right. Although, in this case, it is not so much that the affected person is being mindful, as that their mind can rest in the spaciousness of someone else’s mind. Mindfulness implies volition, of which the person with advanced dementia is not really capable, at least not at the level of mindfulness practice.

      Thank you for your comment!

  4. Sandra Wallace

    I think of this form of communication as “mirroring” with the person with memory loss. If we are tense, they will be tense. To reach a calm state with total focus on another takes time for us to first prepare ourselves. We too often expect those with dementia to respond to us on our terms. Mindfullness is a change of attitude and approach.

  5. Marguerite

    Nice to ‘see’ you here, Sandra!

    When I think of ‘mirroring’, I associate it with D.W. Winnicott’s work. But I understand you use it differently. If we are to stay with Winnicott’s framework, there is another concept that may be relevant here. We can conceptualize our mindfulness practice as a means to ‘holding’ a safe space for the person with dementia to rest in, both cognitively and emotionally.

  6. Al Power

    Absolutely! It’s amazing how much we can disable people, simply by not creating the optimal environment for them to connect successfully.
    Richard Taylor believes the primary problem with memory in dementia is not losing the memories, but losing the ability to access them. The ability of people in the right environment to retrieve memories thought long-lost is evidence of this.

  7. Marguerite

    Yes, Al. Richard’s contributions are formidable. I am so thankful for the understanding he has helped shed on the reality of the person living with dementia.

    Lots of work to do . . .

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