5 Love Languages

Monday, February 4, 2019—8:30 pm —50˚F (10˚C)—Very warm for winter, with rain

In November 2017, I wrote about a book I read in My Journey with Sumi called Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade by Dr. Gary Chapman, Ed Shaw, MD, MA, and Deborah Bar, MA. The premise of the book is that there are ‘5 love languages’ and the deep human need for love does not disappear when a person has Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, I am reflecting on this book again with additional facts I’ve learned based on medical science.

To begin, medical science tells us there are four hormones that determine a person’s happiness: dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin.

In our journey through life, various levels of dopamine are released when we accomplish tasks, both little and big. When we are appreciated for work we’ve done at the office or at home we feel accomplished and good. That is because our bodies released dopamine.

When we exercise our body releases endorphins. This hormone helps us cope with the pain of exercising and makes us happy which lets us enjoy the exercise. Laughing is another good way of generating endorphins.

Serotonin is released when we act in a way that benefits others. When we transcend ourselves and give back to others, nature, or society, our body releases serotonin. This is because using our precious time to help others helps us feel valued.

The final hormone is oxytocin. It is released when we are close to others. When we hug our friends or family or shake hands or put our arms around someone’s shoulders various amounts of oxytocin is released.

Taking these hormones and thinking about the 5 love languages, that is words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch, I’d like to share my reflections.

The first love language is words of affirmation, which are unsolicited compliments or words of appreciation like ‘I love you,’ or ‘you did an amazing job,’ or ‘you look great in that dress.’ While taking care of Sumi, her two caregivers have learned a few phrases in Sumi’s native language, Gujarati. They constantly tell her ‘Sumi bahu gamey,’ which means ‘Sumi is liked a lot’ and ‘Sumi bahu saras,’ which means ‘Sumi is very good.’ These words of affirmation are understood by Sumi and she responds positively. This has increased her trust and bonding with her caregivers. When Sumi accomplishes big and little tasks and hears these words of affirmation, it must release various levels of dopamine to make her happy.

The next love language is quality time. Giving someone your full, undivided attention lets you share thoughts, feelings, desires, and experiences. Sumi’s morning caregiver is usually busy with chores while her evening caregiver is able to relax and spend quality time with Sumi. This has made a huge difference. Sumi’s engagement, enjoyment, and laughter have increased while her agitation has decreased. Opportunities for me and Sumi to have quality time can be walking in the park or at the local YMCA. The exercise also releases endorphins to make us both happy, as well as our laughter does.

Gifts and receiving gifts is the next love language. The effort behind giving a gift sends the ‘I love you’ message. Being physically present and giving the gift of your time is also an intangible and precious gift, especially in times of crisis, illness, or celebration. Sumi is not capable of receiving and appreciating tangible gifts but while I feed her and give her sweets I can see the joy and happiness on her face. It is like she is receiving the best gift of all. Sometimes, she even wants to feed me the same sweet I put on her plate as if she wants to gift me with her precious possession. Many of our friends and relatives have also given us intangible gifts—the gift of their time. They have stayed with us, visited us, invited us to their homes, gone out for dinner, or brought home-cooked food for us. These freely given gifts help release serotonin, which aids our happiness.

The fourth love language is acts of service. This is doing helpful things for others, such as setting the table, walking the dog, washing dishes, or anything that lightens the load of another. When we act in a way to benefit others our bodies also release serotonin. When I am taking care of Sumi I do many helpful things for her safety, hygiene, and well-being. These acts release serotonin and helps keep me happy.

Lastly, the fifth love language is physical touch. This is deliberate touching that requires your full attention like a back rub, foot massage, hug, kiss, or holding hands. Whenever physical touch is involved our bodies release oxytocin, and makes us happy. This is especially valuable for a person with Alzheimer’s. Physical touch gives them assurance and security which translates into less agitation. Kissing Sumi on her forehead, holding her hand while walking, or holding them while in bed before she falls asleep has a calming effect on her on top of any oxytocin effects.

In a normal relationship between two people, the above 5 love languages are reciprocal. With Sumi, they are mostly intentional and unidirectional—from me to her. When Sumi is the recipient of any of these 5 love languages I look for the smallest clue from her, in a way of a smile or reduced agitation and it is gratifying.