Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Walmart and Alzheimer's Caregiving


Point? This endeavor makes the life of the caregiver easier, happier, and more productive....
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room


I am always looking for ways to keep my mother active and attached to the "real" world. One way I do this is by going to Walmart (WMT).

I am sitting here wondering if Walmart understands the wonderful positive role they could play with the Alzheimer's patient and caregiver? Not likely. Would they do something if they did? Good question. They wouldn't make more money but the PR value would be enormous. For a company that could use some good public relations Alzheimer's could be an answer.

Specifically, I am wondering what would happen if Walmart CEO Mike Duke came down here to the Delray Beach Walmart store and watched me "wag" my mother from our car, through the parking lot, into the store, and then watched my mother drive around the store in one of those motorized shopping carts.



I would be interested in seeing his reaction as my mother goes from being Zombie like and literally transforms by the time we are leaving the store.

You don't become the CEO of a corporation like Walmart unless you are smart, hardworking, motivated, and able to acquire and motivate talented people. You expose a CEO to a situation like this and there is not telling what might happen if the "light bulb" in his head turns on.

I can dream can't I?
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How big is Walmart?
  • About 100 million people visit Walmart each week. That is about one third of the population of the United States.
  • Walmart is the world's largest corporation in terms of retail sales.
  • Walmart sales account for more then twenty percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). I didn't actually look that number up, but its close enough.
I think you get my point.

Most of Walmart's cusomters are women. Most Alzheimer's caregivers are women.

Could Walmart make an impact on the lives of Alzheimer's patients and caregivers? You bet they could.

How about Alzheimer's caregiver day every Tuesday and Thursday from 2-4 PM. Maybe bring in a clown or someone singing for the benefit of the patients. Obviously this would need to be refined and worked out to fit the store environment.
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One of the biggest laments I hear from Alzheimer's caregivers is "I'm Lonely".

If you are feeling lonely then you need to be doing something to combat loneliness. Take a trip to Walmart, put your loved in the motorized cart, and move around the store.

Believe it or not, Dotty and I can have a lot of fun in Walmart. We discuss the items like ice cream, potato chips, or even go down to the electronics section and discuss flat panel televisions.

Here is what you accomplish on your trip to Walmart. All of these are needed by both the Alzheimer's patient and Alzheimer's caregiver
  • Exercise.

    The caregiver gets some moderate exercise moving from the parking lot and around the store.
    Can't hurt and beats sitting around all day long.

    The patient not only gets physical exercise they get a massive dose of brain exercise. Gotta us the brain in connection with the hands and fingers to get around the store. Gotta use the brain to make decisions: start, stop, go straight, turn left, turn right, back-up, and U-Turn.
  • Get Out into Bright Light.

    This is my favorite. Few people understand the importance of getting into bright light. It is usually taken for granted.

    Once you become an Alzheimer's caregiver you tend to spend more time inside -- it is part of the job requirement. People that are depressed tend to spend lots of time in the dark. There are research studies indicating that bright light can help stave off depression. Forty percent of Alzheimer's caregivers end up suffering from depression.

    Bright light improves the mood of the Alzheimer's patient and caregiver. Walmart stores are well lit. This is a big positive.

    When you get out in the sun you also get a shot of Vitamin D. Low vitamin D can also be a cause of depression. You need vitamin D to keep your bones and muscles healthy. Angil wrote a very good article on this topic -- Vitamin D and the Elderly.

    Put Dotty in bright light and her entire attitude changes. The look on her face changes, she smiles more, and is overall much more cooperative. Bright light is essential for good Alzheimer's caregiving in my opinion. Out into bright light and doing something. Not sitting next to the window in the cave.
  • Socialization.

    It is not unusual for Alzheimer's patients to get nervous around groups of people they don't know. Frequent trips to Walmart can help you deal with and solve this problem. It is not unusual for Dotty to get a bit nervous when we get in a traffic crowd at Walmart. However, I can say with confidence that she doesn't get anywhere near as nervous as she did a couple of years ago when I started her driving around Walamrt. Keep in mind, Dotty's Alzheimer's is worsening, but her ability to deal with crowds of people has improved.

    Speaking of driving. That is exactly what Dotty is doing when she "drives" the motorized cart. If yo patient is reluctant to use the cart start saying "you are going to drive around the store". "Come on, you'll enjoy driving". Remember how they pitched a "fit" when they found out they would no longer be driving the car? Well, now they will get to drive. Make it seem like a treat and a great experience. If they "balk" don't worry they'll get in if you give em enough positive reinforcement.

    It is not unusual for people to smile at Dotty as she sits in the cart. Sometimes they stop and talk to her. Sometimes they talk to me. Lonely? Well, take any "yak" you can get. You won't feel as lonely after your trip to Walmart. At least, I hope that is true.

    Sidenote: Sometimes when I go into Walmart the women at the front tells me to put Dotty in the wheelchair cart instead of the motorized cart. The assume when we go in, based on the way Dotty walks that she won't be able to drive. I gave up trying to explain to them, Dotty can do it. Instead, I give them the palm. I stick my hand out, palm facing forward like a stop sign. Works like magic. Helps if you look them right in the eye. A little extra nonverbal communication never hurts. I have to admit here, I want to tell them to eat a banana but I don't.

    Guess what? The same person that tries to deter us and poop on our parade ends up amazed or startled when the see Dotty and I take off into the store.

    People in the store are often amazed when they see Dotty driving around with me. This explains why they smile and talk. There are so many people in Walmart at any given point in time, you are almost guaranteed to run into one of the wonderful people.
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Interestingly, Dotty has gotten better and better the more we drive around Walmart. She could always drive, so I mean happier, more cooperative, and less worn out.

More cooperative? I have written about patterns before. One pattern we are establishing at Walmart is working together and cooperation. Dotty is driving the cart. I continually tell her how much I enjoy her driving the cart, and how it makes it easier to shop. I let her know she is shopping, and we are shopping together.

While we are engaged in the shopping we are establishing a series of patterns. Good communication. Cooperation. Working together. You establish these patterns in Walmart and guess what? They spill over into the rest of your day. Anytime you establish a positive pattern with someone suffering from Alzheimer's disease it will help you in other very different situations.

Point? This endeavor makes the life of the caregiver easier, happier, and more productive.

So you see. The patient gets what they need. The caregiver gets what they need. The combination leads to more effective caregiving.

Believe it or not, this is a fun time. Just watching your loved one do something so effectively makes for a better day.

It might also lead you to conclude: they can do more then I thought. They can.
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An additional tip. Once your patients gets good at driving the cart introduce a greater level of difficulty. For example, I intentionally lead Dotty into areas where she needs to do a U-Turn or back-up. This taxes her brain. So I see this as an additional opportunity to exercise her brain. I also like the idea that the brain has to send the signals to Dotty's hands and fingers.

If you don't have a Walmart near you, find the equivalent.

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Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. Bob has written more than 1,400 articles with more than 9,000 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room