Apr 3, 2011

Alzheimer's Communication -- Go Where the Action is

The worse thing you can do is do nothing. We are not babysitters.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Alzheimer's Communication
That's Dotty in the sunglasses, at the Banana Boat.

I am now remembering that when Dotty was first diagnosed, I thought I better get all the information about the past that I could out of Dotty.

At that time, it was particularly interesting talking to Dotty. She couldn't remember what she ate that day, but she could remember what she was doing in 1922. You have to remember, I was new to the Alzheimer's game at the time. I was curious about the disease, and starting up the Alzheimer's caregiver learning curve at the same time.

One night I am talking to Dotty and asking her about her father William Watts. Next thing I know we are discussing what he did for work.

Dotty told me how she remembered going to work with her father. He delivered products to corner grocery stores. Might not sound like much until we get to part where Dotty is riding with him on the horse drawn truck while at work with him. This was something I never knew or ever heard previously. Keep in mind, we were discussing events that happened in the 1920s.

Next, Dotty told me about how the store owners use to give her things, like candy. I try to imagine Dotty climbing out of the truck to go into the store. Dotty is a shrimp to start out with -- five feet tall. Six years old? I see Dotty as 3 feet, two inches. That is one tiny Dotty.

Dotty has pictures of herself in the 1940s. She weighed 97 pounds. I believe it. She must have had an 18 inch waist. Imagine that ladies. I would tell you Dotty's current waist size but I don't want to get sued by Dotty.

This story is reminding me of another story that is a bit off track. I remember back in 2001 when Dotty announced to the world at a big family gathering that she was English. Everybody looked at me with a look of shock on their face. I told them, she has been saying this for a few years. They couldn't believe it. Dotty's mother was full blood Italian, and her father was English.

Mild cognitive impairment?

OK, lets get back on track.

In the early days, after the diagnosis of probable Alzheimer's, it was like Dotty and I were living in a cave. Her friends were not calling her much, and only Josie was coming by to see us. We could go days, just me and Dotty. Then we started going to the gym. We could go days and the only people we saw were at the gym, or at the store.

I did start to make observations. Dotty could walk better than it appeared. While on a treadmill she can hold on to the bar(s). Dotty seemed to be responding very well to the exercise, bright light, and limited social activity. Another benefit -- Dotty's legs got stronger, her balance improved, and she stopping falling.

Soon the light bulb went on in my head.

This is when Dotty and I started going to the Banana Boat restaurant. They have a big outdoor bar that sits out on the water. You can eat, drink, and listen to live music. Pretty soon people started talking to Dotty. Random people. Dotty started talking right back. Some of the stories Dotty told were excellent. A figment of her imagination but still wonderful to hear. Well, they seemed wonderful after I finally got over my own hangup. I was hung-up because Dotty was telling lies. Imagine that.

What a knucklehead I was.

It took a while but finally I came to a simple realization. It really didn't matter what Dotty said, it did matter that Dotty was talking. Talking to complete strangers at times. Its the socialization stupid (I'm talking to myself here).

This is when I was discovering the positive effect that bright light and socialization had on Dotty. This was back when I made one of my most important decisions and discoveries,
Dotty and I would begin living our life as we always had.
You need to remember there are two parts to this equation -- Dotty and me. Soon I learned another important lesson. The better Dotty's day, the better Bobby's day.

A trip to the Banana Boat is like a vacation for Dotty and me. It is going to get warm soon and Dotty and I will reappear at the the Banana Boat. Last year, after the season ended we started going downtown to Vic and Angelo's. Dotty and I decided we were burned out on the BB. So we moved our act to Vic and Angelo's.

Vic and Angelo's has great chicken wings. We might also venture across the street to the new outdoor place that opened up -- burgers, ribs, wings and live music. They also have a new place that serves Maine Lobster rolls -- we are there.

I should interject. Dotty is going to be 95 soon. I finally got her use to being 94. I don't think she is going to like hearing me telling people she is 95. Its fun telling people Dotty is 94. Usually their eyes pop out of their head. They can't believe Dotty is out in the world at her age. Dotty is a good role model.

Communication with someone suffering from Alzheimer's is important. It is obvious that someone suffering from Alzheimer's can't tell you what day it is. On the other hand, they love to talk about the past. Go where the action is.

People suffering from Alzheimer's love to go out. Start living your life -- go where the action is.

I'll let you in on a little secret. You go where the action is and your are going to find out some things you never knew about yourself.

I suggest you figure out where the action is. Then you write a little article for us and explain what you observed and learned in the action arena.
A lack of social stimulation is harmful for people with dementia. It exaggerates the impact of the condition. It can lead to depression and it encourages people to withdraw into themselves.....

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Bob DeMarco
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized expert, writer, speaker, and influencer in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community worldwide. The ARR Knowledge Base contains more than 4,600 articles. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

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