An Amazing Presence While Working with Patients with Dementia


Dementia is a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. I work in home health as a physical therapist and occasionally have patients with some form of dementia that impacts their independent living. The role of rehabilitation with these patients can be very challenging depending on the stage of the disease process. Summer of 2011, I had a series of patients with the diagnosis of dementia that opened my eyes in a way the mind has difficultly explaining and goes beyond the standards of belief today. I experienced an awareness of connection of all of life to the universe. Moreover, as I work with the body I am beginning to see and experience a great relationship to the eternal soul.

I started the week with a new patient that was recently diagnosed by her doctor with memory loss. I completed her home health geriatric physical therapy evaluation. As I was about to leave her home she smiled and pointed to a glass of water. She asked me, “What do you see?” Puzzled I looked at her. She elaborated by asking, “Is it half full or half empty?” I look at the patient and she smiled. I was caught in her smile of delight. "Half full?" I replied but confused by such a random question. She says, "Well..." I asked her, "What do you see?" She reports in a matter of fact tone, "Both.” As I drove to my next patient, I contemplated the glass of water, the emptiness, and fullness

My next patient could only respond to simple commands and was primarily nonverbal. Again I was caught off guard. After completing a series of transfer-training activities and pre-walking standing activities, she rested in her wheel chair. I sat with her quietly. She spoke the word, “Perspective.” I questioned, “Perspective, what do you mean?” She had no response but I contemplated the similarity of my first patient that day. I began to feel a strange possible connection between my patients.

My last patient that day was a patient of very advanced stage of dementia. She was bed bound and completely nonverbal. She is not a typical patient I receive in home health for rehabilitation. She had developed a new hamstring contracture of her knee with complications of a bed sore. My intervention was to instruct the caregiver, her daughter, in range of motion and positioning to decrease the tightness of the newly shortened hamstring muscle. The technique was a very gentle, hands-on, and slow sustained stretch of the leg muscles. I did not know if she had any pain but she did withdraw with my touch initially. I could not connect with her by words so I began to connect with her body to feel any resistance.

As I connected with her performing her gentle stretches and range of motion, I felt an opening into something that has no boundaries. Her deep penetrating stare had no signs of expression. Can you even begin to think what it is like to put yourself in that condition? It appears to be a total loss of everything. I went out on a limb and I allowed my heart to open to her. As I connected to her, I experienced what I can only call oneness. When I left her home I was spinning in a vertigo for days because I really could not put this experience into anything the normal mind of everyday reality can explain. The more I resisted this perspective the more I spinned.

Eventually I did come out of spin but I am forever moved by the experience. I connected to something grand that day beyond the body and beyond the mind. An amazing presence is in each one of us, but it is often not realized until we have nothing. I felt it after my grandmother died. Now not only could I feel it in another living being, but I felt it in everything. I began to see connections everywhere. I could see both the fullness and the emptiness. At the time I felt like I received an amazing blessing but honestly that blessing or grace is always here. The taste of oneness is worth more than any material value however shatters any and all conflicting conditioned beliefs against it.

My approach to my work has not changed in a clinical way but my perspective has changed to a wholistic view. I bring complete presence of being to the patient, caregivers, and home when working with any patient now. I am learning a new rootedness of my own being that seems to help the awareness of the patient. My experience on this subject is still so new. I am sure my experience is just the tip of the iceberg and more advanced practitioners in this area exist. I continue to work with a compassionate heart and bring a new faith and trust to my work.


Comments 13 comments

goodholmes profile image

goodholmes 4 years ago

Good to share

shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

Informative hub on such a terrible and debilitating disease. You have a wonderful and caring spirit.

voting up

Dyhannah profile image

Dyhannah 4 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks for sharing goodholmes.

Dyhannah profile image

Dyhannah 4 years ago from Texas Author

Shiningirisheyes thanks for reading and posting your sweet comment.

radhapriestess 4 years ago

I used to do music in nursing home and I saw how some people would actually start to talk after music moved them even if they had not spoken in years. Very powerful thing. I also know that there are environmental causes of many conditions like exposure to toxins. One of the worse toxins people are exposed to is their dental fillings. I know people who have recovered their health, including myself, when they were removed and replaced with something more compatiable. Mercury is one of the worse culprits. Glad you are able to something with people.

Dyhannah profile image

Dyhannah 4 years ago from Texas Author

radhapriestess I actually saw a YouTube Video of the of music and Dementia and it was unbelievable how alive they became.

As we work with these patients, it is very difficult but it simply offers an opportunity to open our hearts.

Thanks for your comment.

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stessily 4 years ago

Dyhannah, This is such an incredibly awakening experience. Your sensitivity to layers of meaning and of existence, which appears in all of your writings, has prepared you for this new perspective. You and your clients are blessings for one another. I appreciate that you shared this experience, and that you have written about it with clarity. Up + UABI + sharing.

Appreciatively, Stessily

Dyhannah profile image

Dyhannah 4 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks Stellily for your comment. I could not agree more that my clients and I are blessings for one another.

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stessily 4 years ago

Dyhannah, I am marking this lovely piece for sharing again so it's available for others to read as a complement to a wonderful tribute written by wwolfs for her mother, who had Alzheimer's:

Appreciatively, Stessily

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wwolfs 4 years ago

That is an incredible experience for you to be able to connect on a deeper level with your patients. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and many times I felt like she knew what was going on.

It was strange, but I felt an awareness from her whenever my emotions were highest. It was like she was trying to let me know that she knew what was going on, and wanted me to have that mother comfort.

Nice hub and very interesting. You sound like a very caring person and are a blessing for your patients. Thank you for sharing.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Dyhannah profile image

Dyhannah 4 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks Stessily for sharing and connecting me to wwolfs' lovely hub about her mom.

wwolfs although I am not with my patient's long term, I often feel that certain awareness too. Trust what you felt.

I appreciate the comments.

ashish04joshi profile image

ashish04joshi 4 years ago from India

I can understand how it feels be in your shoes. My Grandma had dementia in the last few years of her life and there was nothing anyone was able to do about it.

Thanks for this hub.

'Up' 'useful' 'awesome' 'interesting' and shared...

Dyhannah profile image

Dyhannah 4 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks ashish04joshi for your comment. Yes its the frustration of not being able to really do anything about the loss of memory and its deep impact on the relationship with our loved ones that causes us to ask the most deep of questions. Why? How? What?

I feel warmth in my heart as I don't resist the reality and embrace what life presents which allows only pure radiant peace to explain. There is no logic but an ocean of love.

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