[Ida’s daughter told me when we first met, “My mother has] the prettiest smile, the most joyous laugh.” So true! She just lit up the world of those who could really see her. Ida was still able to walk with some assistance, but her ability to put words together and to communicate thoughts had been severely compromised [by her dementia]. Within a relatively brief [span of time], her words [could not be] understood at all. Every verbalization was forced out with a strain, syllables mixed around into nonsensical sounds. Yet every attempt [to communicate] was filled with intent and passion. It felt as though whatever was being communicated must be very important to Ida. So, of course, it was important for someone to listen.
Each day I invited Ida to join me for a walk. We walked arm in arm through the nursing units on the second floor, [then through] the administrative offices and back to her unit. All the while Ida talked. Some days I could not understand any of her words and I learned to ask if what she was talking about was good news or bad news so as to respond appropriately throughout our walk. I would say, “Ida, is that OK for you?” She would either respond with shaking her head “Yes” and give me one of her great smiles, or she would look at me as if I had just flown in from Orion. Whatever her response, I followed her lead. We would then proceed down the hallways, [she] talking away and [I] periodically providing joyous responses or empathy and reassurances. Every day Ida was able, [for almost two years], we walked the loop and talked, each of us appreciating our time together, [even though I never] understood [either] the importance of her words [or why our walk and talk seemed important enough to make such a routine.]
Then one day, during one of our walks, Ida stopped, turned fully towards me, held both of my arms and said, “I love you. You treat me like such a person!” She [turned then] and continued [down the hallway, taking up once again our walking conversation in her own largely uninterpretable language of many sounds.]
[Nancy Pearce, Inside Alzheimer’s: How to Hear and Honor Connections with a Person Who Has Dementia. First Forrason Press (2007), pp 7-9.]