When trying to decide what to write about this morning, I pulled out my “Sources” file and looked for ideas. After 300+ blog posts, it’s sometimes a challenge to come up with something new and fresh. There’s a new game on Facebook involving a list of things your friends might not know about you. I considered writing something like that, but at this point, anything I haven’t already written about myself is probably something I don’t want to reveal, so I went back to the file.
One item that caught my eye was an article on the Alzheimer’s Association website called “101 Activities.” It offers simple suggestions of things to do with your Alzheimer’ patient like listening to music, coloring a picture, or tossing a ball. There is no further explanation and no warning of how these simple activities might backfire. However, as you might imagine, I have a couple of tales that might give a caregiver pause before engaging in some of the activities.
One of the suggestions is baking cookies. Mom was a great cook and she enjoyed
working in the kitchen. As her Alzheimer’s progressed and arthritis twisted her fingers into odd shapes, she was willing to turn over the major kitchen duties to me, but she still wanted to be involved. Anytime she heard me open the refrigerator or rattle a pot, she appeared as if by magic with a bright smile and the inevitable questions – Can I help?
As a mother, I spent my share of time fishing egg shells out of the cake batter when Christian wanted to help. It was a loving time of bonding as he learned to stir and measure and eventually create some edible offerings on his own. But it was different with Mom. It was heartbreaking to see the blank expression on her face when I gave her a simple task, and it was frustrating when her help meant it took twice as long to get a meal on the table. More often than I care to admit, I turned down her offer and watched the smile fade from her face as she went back to watch TV with Dad.
But sometimes I slowed down a bit, and we worked together. One Wednesday afternoon as I began preparation for the Thanksgiving meal the next day, she appeared with her inevitable offer to help.
“Sure,” I said. “You can help with the pecan pie.”
I removed the pre-made pie crust from the package, rolled it out and laid it over the top of the pie pan.
“Pat this down into the pan for me.”
“I can do that,” she said.
She worked a few minutes and then looked up at me. In one of her heart-wrenching moments of clarity, she said, “I’m not really helping, am I.”
“Of course you are. Getting the crust right is the most important part.”
I don’t know if she believed me, or if the moment of clarity simply past, but she went back to patting with great enthusiasm. When she finished, there were deep fingerprints in the crust, and when I served the pie the next day, that crust stayed in the pan, right where she had patted it. But for a little while she was involved, and for once I didn’t have to feel guilty about refusing her help.
Another suggested activity in the Alzheimer’s article is folding laundry. A friend and fellow caregiver has a cautionary tale about this
one. Her mother was in the advanced stages of dementia, but she loved to fold towels. My friend often emptied her linen closet into a pile to keep her mother busy. One day, after leaving her mother with a stack of brand new towels, she returned to find her mother surrounded by terry cloth scraps and holding a pair of scissors.
“Mom, what are you doing?”
“Well, I was having trouble getting the towels folded squarely, so I cut off the pieces that were sticking out.”
The moral of the story is this: be creative when planning activities for your dementia patients, but also be wary of unintended consequences.