“There are only four kinds of people in the world–those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.” ― Rosalyn Carter
As you may know from my writing, dementia has affected my family as it does so many others. I have three relatives currently living with varying versions of the disease. It’s heart-wrenching to watch their memories and abilities fade.
As many people have lamented, it’s like losing your person a thousand times before they’re gone.
Recently, I have noticed that conversations are more of a struggle for my Lela (grandmother). She fears she doesn’t have much to say. Additionally, her short-term memory is compromised, so we frequently get caught in loops. I always repeat answers as if it were the first time, but she can still sense a discordance in our exchange.
Ever so, it’s important to show up. To spend time together. To connect. Dementia is just making that more complex. I realized I need to be more creative in the face of this challenge.
Lately, I have pulled some coffee table books off the shelf to peruse. I’ll note interesting things I see and she will as well. I’ve also done some coloring. Although she has (so far) refused my invitations to join in, it takes the focus off the words. There’s less pressure to fill the silence. We can be with more ease.
I took my personal challenge to the “hive mind” on social media and received quite a few inspired ideas that I’ll include below, in case they might benefit others working with/caring for those living with dementia. Of course, approaches need to be personalized and adapted for each person, each visit.
- Cut out images from magazines (or print out from your computer) and make cards that you can talk about. For example, if she likes animals or flowers, do pictures of those. Then just talk about them. Say things like I really like the color of this kitty. Oh look, this one has stripes. You can go through them several times. You can show her two and ask which one she likes. Don’t use photos of family or things from her own life because she may not recognize them.
- Recount something that happened to you. Short and sweet or funny. But super simple. Think of it as a 2 or 3 sentence story. Not about anything that she already knows about (history). That can trigger disassociation.
- Also: paper crafts, stuffed animals, homemade cards, and postcards.
- Shadow boxes
- Take a pie plate and let her make a pie crust with flour, oil, milk mixing with her hands then shape the crust
- Make ice cream in a plastic bag (wear gloves) and roll it until the cream freezes then eat it
- Brush hair, paint nails, hand massage
- Play her favorite music
- Last but not least, I would show your picture book to her, your illustrations are beautiful and maybe a connection of both of you will be there
“We have made shoeboxes by the decade, usually starting with whatever decade the person was in at age 20. I bring articles and printed photos, little handhelds (keychains or buttons), and talk about the items. If anything sparks memories or interest, we pause to talk. Otherwise, we put each item in the shoebox and label the decade. Then, we move to the next one. (I record/summarize any personal/family stories that come from that for the family to have.)”
A few people recommended this deck of cards specially made with dementia in mind, crafted by Vermonters.
And lastly, patience. ALWAYS patience, which is replenished when caregivers can nourish themselves.
Want to read more about dementia care? Check out this other blog post.