While I was caring for my mom, who lived with Alzheimer's, I learned that she reacted much better to visual cues than she did to verbal cues.
Alzheimer's Reading Room
This lead me to the conclusion that she could live a happier and more engaged life if I added visual cues to our daily environment and activities.
A toy parrot, stuffed animals that sing and dance, baby dolls, puzzles, and even a cup of coffee can help a person living with dementia to have a happier life.
People living with Alzheimer's want to have fun, just like you and me.
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1. The Greatest Alzheimer's Caregiver of Them All
We named the greatest caregiver tool of them all Harvey. Before it was all said and done we had 2 toy parrots, Harvey and Pete.
My mom, Dotty, talked to Harvey for several hours each day. After a while she would wake up in the morning and ask - Where's Harvey? I heard my mom tell Harvey he was her best friend; and, that she loved him. I once asked - mom, do you know Harvey is a toy - she responded - yes, dummy. I never asked again.
Harvey was good company for my mom. Harvey was good to me also. He entertained mom and gave me the opportunity to relax - what I considered a form of respite care.
If you hired someone to care for a person living with dementia you would probably need to give them training. Not with this wonderful care giving tool. Turn him on and just wait for your loved one get the hang of it.
I often look at my mom's face while she was interacting with Harvey. Her brain was working, she would talk, sometimes laugh at Harvey, sing with him, and even call him a "dummy".
You can find Pete on Amazon here.
Over 1,600 readers have purchased Pete and they tell me he works.
2. Stuffed Animals that Sing and Dance
I am talking about the kind of stuffed animal where you press a button on their foot or hand and they sing or dance or both.
My mom's favorite was Snoopy Santa Claus (we used him all year round). He played music, shook and danced (moved around). Snoopy would always mesmerize Dotty. Key word here - mesmerize. You could see the look on Dotty's face - happy, mesmerized, and often delighted.
Like Harvey, I didn't have to do anything. I would just put these stuffed animals on the kitchen table, in the living room, and even in the bedroom. Dotty would pick them up and get engaged.
I have to thank my sister Joanne on this one. She was always sending us new stuffed animals. Me? I bought a couple, and one of them I bought scared my mom - go figure. Guess you need the woman touch.
3. Puzzles to Remember
Thanks to Max Wallack and Springbok puzzles you can now buy puzzles specifically designed for person living with dementia. This was originally Max's idea.
At Springok you can find puzzles with as little as 12 big pieces. Clearly puzzles work the minds of dementia patients. They will be using their brain, eyes and hands in concert. This is a wonderful brain exercise.
Max first wrote here in the Alzheimer's Reading Room when he was twelve years old. He is now a student at the Harvard Medical School. By the way, Max is currently 20 years old and already enrolled in the Harvard Medical School.
Puzzles to Remember (Max's non-profit) has distributed almost 64,000 puzzles to over 3,800 Alzheimer's care facilities.
Puzzles work. Check out this interesting Springbok puzzle.
4. Baby Dolls
Baby Dolls really work well. Here is a tip from our expert Rachael Wonderlin. You don't have to buy an expensive baby doll that costs $300. Rachael says, a cheaper doll that looks like a baby and feels somewhat like a baby will work. She knows this because she uses baby dolls in her memory care facilities.
From Dementia by Day.
The other day I was walking down the hall and spotted three of my residents, sitting nearby each other, cuddling their baby dolls. They were all of different levels of functioning. One woman, Gwen, can almost pass for a person without dementia. She is talkative, outgoing, and can walk without aid. Another one, Bella, did not speak much at all, and still another resident spoke, but completely in Italian. She used to speak English, but eventually lost her second language as her dementia progressed.
Despite their different levels of functioning, all these women were interacting with each other because of the dolls.Read the rest of the article here.
5. A Cup of Coffee
I was always trying to figure out what Dotty like to do before the onset of dementia. One thing she did like to do was drink coffee.
I started taking her to Mc Donald's where we could sit outside in the sun. Sun and bright light are very good for dementia patients - in fact, the sun is an important component of dementia care.
I would get Dotty a coffee and her favorite - french fries. One time a little bird flew up and Dotty pitched the bird a french fry. The bird grabbed the french fry and flew away. Dotty was delighted, and so was I. Dotty had just used her brain, eyes and hands all in one act. She could still do it.
Another time a cat came up. Dotty pitched the french fry and the cat took a sniff of it and walked away. Dotty as usual had a comment - she called the cat a dummy.
Every once in a while someone at another table would start talking to Dotty. I always felt like this was a good thing. I wanted Dotty to have all the socialization she could get.
Ice cream also worked very well.
I want to emphasize the importance of visual cues as an important part of effective caregiving. Not only do the activities I described above help to improve socialization, they also help raise the self esteem of a person living with dementia.
You, the caregiver, will also receive great benefits. The person you are caring for will become easier to manage, and they will also seem livelier and "more there" as a result.
How to Get Answers To Your Questions About Alzheimer's and Dementia
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR).
The Alzheimer's Reading Room contains more than 5,000 articles and has been published daily since July, 2009.
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