Feb 2, 2013

A Wonderful Moment, We Make Dementia Friends, and the Dance

I have a vivid image of the look on mom's face and of us dancing. I will have that image in my mind forever. 

Dorothy DeMarco A Wonderful Moment, Our Dementia Friends
Dotty, 2011
95 years old
One of the biggest problems I faced as an Alzheimer's caregiver was keeping my mother socialized. If it was up to her she would sit around all day in the dark, rarely speaking.

If you have experienced this as a caregiver, you know how really disconcerting this can be.

In 2005, I started taking my mother to the Banana Boat (BB) in Boynton Beach on most Friday nights. The Banana Boat is an outdoor restaurant on the Inter coastal Waterway in south Florida. The "Boat" has an outdoor restaurant and an outdoor bar where you can eat and listen to live music.

Since my mother rarely spoke when we went out to dinner and sat at a table, I decided we would sit at the bar and eat.

I was hoping mom would benefit from being around people; and that, she would benefit from seeing people interact with each other.

I chose this outdoor venue because it has lots of bright light; and, bright light had a very positive effect on my mother's attitude and behavior.

The episode I am about to describe took place during March, 2009.

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Bob DeMarco
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When it came time to eat, my mother ordered chicken wings and french fries -- this was always one of her favorites. I felt a bit of joy when the food came and my mother's eyes almost popped out of her head when she saw -- a big basket of french fries. She was delighted. Each of these moments of happiness were important to us. Joy rather than burden.

By 2009, Dotty and I had acquired some Dementia Friends, and what can be best described as a growing list of dementia acquaintances.

As it turned out, a 90+ year old woman, with her son, seemed to pique the interest of those around us. I guess you could say they were quite surprised to seemy 90+ year old out at night and having a good time.

So these Dementia Friends just came to us, one by one.

Wonderful People.

Both women and men would just come over and start talking to us. And it was not unusual for them to talk to Dotty while I roamed around around the bar area.

As was often the case, my bright ideas often worked better than I could ever have expected. You see I am just like every other Alzheimer's caregiver, my brain was sometimes constrained by the stigma attached to Alzheimer's. I had to work hard to overcome this.

Dotty gained quite a bit from these excursions to the Boat. The benefits included: exercise, bright light, and lots of social interaction. The experience included live music, people dancing, and lots of movement around us.

Some people conclude that persons living with dementia will get bent out of shape if they are subjected to noise and noisy environments. Well this is true, so I had to work Dotty into the Boat environment slowly when we first started going in 2005. She adjusted quite nicely and quickly.

One of my goals was to keep both of us socially stimulated and out in the world. We did it, the BB worked.

If you are an Alzheimer's caregiver you should understand the importance of getting out and around. It is a good mental health break for both the person living with Alzheimer's and their caregiver to get out and into the world. Important for good mental health, and to help avoid depression and sadness.

After a while, a small group of people at the Boat started saving a chair for my mother - they were expecting us. The first time we missed a Friday, one woman (now my good buddy Helen) asked for our phone number and told me they were worried about "mom" when we didn't show up. Imagine that.

As time went on, our little group of friends started to get bigger and this turned out to be a "God send". Each week, one by one these wonderful people would come up and start talking to my mother. She really enjoyed this and her attitude perked up right away. They treated her just like everyone else, and talked to her like she was one of the gang. They even invited her to parties, and took her to the casino for her birthday.

These were out Dementia Friends.

All her life my mother loved to dance. So, each and every week I asked her if she wanted to dance. Our new friends would also ask mom to dance - men and women alike. I could tell mom wanted to dance but she always said - no. Mom was no longer confident about her ability to dance. While her instincts would tell her she wanted to dance her brain was sending a different message. I can tell you mom was never shy about dancing and she was a good dancer.

I repeatedly asked mom if she wanted to dance. She repeatedly said, no.

One night when we were getting ready to leave, and as mom stood up, I started dancing with her right on the spot. She was shaking it a little bit and had a big smile on her face.

By the time we were done, people had tears in their eyes. and smiles as big as big could be.

Wonderful people.

A Wonderful Moment in Time.

I'll never forget it.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room