I was up visiting my mom recently. She lives 1000 miles away in an Alzheimer’s assisted living facility. She seems very happy to be there, although she sure didn’t plan to go to “such a place.” Very independent woman.
What the staff provides these individuals is medication, nutrition, mental and physical activity that helps keep their spirits up, their minds working, and their muscles viable. They play “volleyball” with a balloon, word games such as finding a word beginning with a specific letter, talk about where they have traveled all over the world. There’s coloring, arts and crafts, and they make dog cookies for their resident canine, Rex.
You can “see” their eyes light up as they remember things they haven’t thought about in years, such as the pets they had as a child, and songs they used to sing. Most of these memories are still there and haven’t been erased by either dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Talk about childhood
I talked to my mom about Flip, the dog she kept as a pet when she was a little girl in Washington, DC. She also had ducks for pets. We talked about the feathers that she gathered from the yard as well as the funny things they did together. Mom’s sentences make no sense, but you get the gist from her emotions.
I know the names of her childhood friends, so I would bring them up also, as well as the games like jump rope, kickball, stickball, ice skating and sledding that they used to play in their yards or at school. Mom would smile – these subjects were familiar!
Of course, as I’ve mentioned in the past, singing the songs of the bygone eras of patient’s lives usually are remembered and even sung by the patient! My mom either sings or hums every one of those songs at the top of her voice.
We were singing “Bicycle Built For Two,” which was a song mom learned as a child, and after Mom and I sang it together, she said, “Poor things.” I asked why, because they only had a bicycle? Mom said yes!
If felt so good to actually communicate this way!
The surprise about communicating
But the thing I learned this time, is that many dementia and Alzheimer’s patients keep their eyes closed even when they are awake or semi-awake. It guess it’s just easier. So when Mom was in her room for a nap, I waited until I saw her stir, then I just started talking about the movie that was on TV at the time. Occasionally she would respond. She was listening the whole time!
The same thing happened when we were out in the common room and people were talking about their lives and I would bring something up and Mom would say, “That’s right” or something to that effect. So just because they look out of it doesn’t mean they are! They are listening to everything! Staff has been “caught” talking about my mom when she was taking a nap when Mom chimed in, “Har har!” You have to know my mom’s humor. I died laughing.
Usually I would talk to Mom about what was going on in my life. She certainly understood things like being caught in a traffic jam, paying high prices for groceries, how much rent was these days. “Mercy!” she’d say.
Now, if one can afford it, I would heartily recommend hiring a health care aide, like an LPN, come in for a few hours a day to spend one-on-one time with your loved one. The staff has other duties throughout the day, and at these times patients must spend time alone parked in front of a TV movie or singalong video. In most cases when there’s no direct human interaction, the patients just fall asleep in their wheelchairs and slump uncomfortably. Most of us hate when this happens.
Someone who cares one-on-one
A bond has developed between Mom and her aide that is very special. If my mom is tired after lunch her aide can take her back to her room for quiet time or a nap. The aide calls my mom “Mama Lou” (for Louise), a Jamaican term of endearment. When she leaves for the day, the aide says, “Mama Lou, I am going home now” and my mom will say, “You’re leaving me?” when the aide says yes, Mom says “Shame on you!” and they both laugh!
A personal aide also may detect subtle changes in the patient’s well-being that staff may not notice right away. Remember, most Alzheimer’s patients cannot tell you that they are uncomfortable, hot, cold, or where it hurts. For instance, Mom’s aide can tell when my mom is constipated before it becomes a problem. (I learned that something like that could be the reason a patient becomes short of breath. Who knew?)
Staff has told me that Mom’s whole demeanor has changed for the better since having her own aide be with her most of the day. It’s like having a friend to call on when you want to ask something; and her aide can usually figure out what Mom wants. She makes sure she’s dressed nicely, her hair combed, nails clipped and clean, etc. I think deep down on some level, Mom can now relax about what’s going on in her life right now. She trusts.
Having Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to be a godawful experience when you get the right people together to care for your loved one. At 89, my mom is happy – you can tell. I believe it’s because she is surrounded by people who care about her.