When we go to an appointment there are always magazines to read in the waiting room, sometimes a television is on. That’s because no one wants to sit a stare at the wall, everybody likes something to do.
Early in my caregiving role for our family friend, Bernice, I could have used and surely would have welcomed some important lessons from an Alzheimer’s caregiver. I bought her a coloring book that I thought she would enjoy. She had taught sewing classes and designed dress patterns during her career and I had found a book that was old-fashioned children’s clothes. She had very likely worn this style of clothing when she was a girl. So I went to a craft store and bought markers, thinking that crayons might offend her, and a plain white box to put them in. I tried to make everything look more adult. When I presented her with my well thought out activity, she promptly said she wouldn’t be interested in anything like that. I was crushed. As we sat talking at the dining room table of her assisted living community, with the book and markers spread out, I thought well if she’s not going to color, I will. She watched me intently and soon I was asking her to select a color for the little girl’s shoes and dress. She was designing again! She was so thrilled with “her” picture that we had to walk around the building and show it off to everyone.
I learned a couple of things here. One was that she couldn’t have cared less if there were markers or crayons. It was me who was over analyzing. And I discovered that she had just as much fun, maybe more, when we worked on the picture together. I’m not sure if she didn’t know what to do at first, or if she thought her shaky hands might not make a beautiful picture or if she just enjoyed telling me what colors to use. She ended up directing the activity at her level. Flexibility is important. What difference did it make who actually colored the picture? We both enjoyed it.
As you decide on an activity for the person or people in your care, there are several things to consider.
One thing to remember is that a person with Alzheimer’s disease loses the ability to decide. They will rely on you for guidance. A person in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may be able to look at their calendar and see a note about an appointment or a visit from a friend, but as the disease progresses this will change and they will need to be reminded that it is lunch time or to take medication. And the time will come when they will not even think whether they want to listen to music or go for a walk. Then it will be up to you to make a suggestion. This includes deciding on what to do for the day. Having some games, puzzles, or DVD’s on hand will help you to provide some fun.
Think about the level of difficulty of the activity for the person in your care. Be sure to choose something that will be no-fail. If it’s frustrating, it won’t be fun. We offer activities for all stages of Alzheimer’s. Something familiar is a good start. If your loved one enjoyed puzzles but can no longer handle the tiny pieces of a 500 piece puzzle, select one of our smaller scale puzzles. They were made specifically for people with dementia. If the man in your care liked doing things with his hands, the Lock Box might be a good activity for him. You can even hide some surprises inside for him to find. If the person in your care is easily agitated, try our own weighted Busy Bee Lap Pad. Research has shown weight to be an effective calming tool. Combined with the attachments for visual and tactile stimulation, this just might be what you’re looking for.
Do not be discouraged if you offer something to your loved one and don’t get a positive response. If something is unfamiliar, they will likely say they don’t want it or are not interested in it. The word “no” rarely means “no”. It’s the first thing they think of to say. You have probably noticed that when you are trying to get them to take a shower or brush their teeth. Try to select something that requires little explanation. The fewer words you use, the better. Instead, either place it nearby so they can explore it on their own, or you demonstrate and see if that sparks some interest.
And remember, it doesn’t matter if those in your care use whatever it is you have given them in a different way. The important thing is that they enjoy having something to do.
Please share your ideas and experiences. Tell us your Important Lessons from an Alzheimer’s Caregiver so all of our readers can benefit from your wisdom.