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Gateway to Experience

Written by: Teri Skoog

“There is nothing in the intelligence which did not first pass through the senses.”— Aristotle

I can’t speak for my daughters who are now adults, but when I pass a patch of daisies, I am immediately transported back to the precious moment captured in this photo. According to Aristotle, the senses are a gateway to reality and the source of all knowledge. I think about this early walk my little girls and I took on around our neighborhood. Their brains and nervous systems were absorbing every source of sensory stimulation. I opted not to over explain anything. We tend to do that, as superiors and educators desperate, to place our mark on the knowledge of others. We want to bring our rational thought into everything. For this excursion, I chose to just experience the world along with my daughters and delight in the purity of their reactions. Observing this picture can bring an appreciation of the knowledge opened to these little girls from what they were able to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste in that garden. But Aristotle did us a disservice by only mentioning five senses.

Let’s also consider their discovery of motion, balance, rhythm, temperature, and pressure of the space too. A gateway opened to them that day introducing them to pleasure, disgust, joy, sadness, comfort, and conflict. All knowledge they absorbed through the intuitive skills of experiential self. The senses are a gateway not only to reality, but to our emotions, our mood, and even our memory.

What a gift this is! Especially for our loved ones who are facing changes in their thinking skills. When my own mom struggled to find meaning and understanding in her sensory environment, I revisited the decision to not push my narrative and over explain things. I chose to just experience the world along with my mom and delight in the purity of her reactions.

Although individuals with dementia lose the capability to process and understand sensory stimulation, they maintain the ability to experience it. There is a misunderstanding in dementia care that apathy is a symptom of dementia, and low stimulating environments are ideal. This makes me very sad. Our brains need stimulation like our stomachs need food.

This becomes even more important when dementia is a part of a person’s life. Because of the changes in thinking skills like cause and effect, sequencing, memory recall, and attention skills, our companions struggle to initiate engagement they find pleasurable, comfortable, joyful, and beautiful. When hungry for stimulation, loved ones and caregivers may see more restlessness, despondency, wandering, and isolation. We must use our skills to bring them moments of stimulation customized for them. When we do this, we open a gateway to their reality and encourage them to experience the world in a way pleasing to them. When we become beauty detectives and discover a little history of their culture, life experiences, and personal preferences, we give a gift not only of value, purpose, and joy but of peace, comfort, respect, and above all else, dignity.

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