Jun 11, 2010

Keeping The Love Alive: The Color of Love

By Sheryl Lynn
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I'm writing this article on a rainy day. I remember my days as an in-person caregiver. Grey days like today throw my mom into a tizzy. She, like so many, have a heightened sensitivity to things most of us take for granted: changes in weather, changes in diet, changes in routine, changes in pretty much anything. We caregivers learn to think like our loved ones as much as possible, to enter into Alzheimer's World, in order to better understand where they are and help them as best we can.

I'm an advocate for alternative healing. My focus, and undoubtedly your focus, has been on finding ways to keep my mother more comfortable as her dementia slowly progresses. With your permission, I'd like to discuss an alternative healing modality you and I facilitate each day of your life: color therapy.

I like to say each of us self-medicates with color each day. Think about it. The clothes we choose to wear, the foods we choose to eat, the colors we use for home decor - each is a choice designed to make us feel better, whatever better means on any given day.

Since we all work with color each day, I'm offering the following hints for consciously using color to help your loved one:
  • If your loved one is reluctant to eat, try fixing a plate of food that includes a variety of bright colors. Color stimulates the appetite. During this summer season in the northern hemisphere, we have a rainbow of colors from which to choose whenever we walk into the grocery store. Frozen fruits and vegetables can substitute for fresh and have almost all the visual appeal of fresh.
  • If your loved one tends to get depressed (especially on rainy days), try replacing your regular light bulbs with full-spectrum light bulbs. The difference may not be noticeable to you but might be just what your loved one needs.
  • Who said old people have to dress drab? Bring your loved one's favorite colors into their wardrobes. Everyone likes to get new stuff. I bought my mom a coral-colored blouse for her birthday this year. She seems happier when she wears it. Many people feel happier when wearing colors like coral, peach and similar variations of orange.
  • If you're painting your home and have installed railings to help your loved one's walking, consider painting the railing in a color that sharply contrasts with the walls. As their vision gets worse, it's easier for them to see and use the railings if they stand out.
  • When I trained as a color therapist ten years ago, I learned that the walls of many prisons are being painted pink to lessen aggression in their inmates, both male and female. That trend has now been expanded to include coloring their jumpsuits, sheets, boxer shorts and even the bars of the cells pink. That's what happened in the Mason County, Texas, jail, and it's worked well for them. If you're dealing with a loved one with aggressive tendencies, you might want to consider bringing more pink into their personal space. There are many different pinks. If this idea interests you, try working with your loved one to find one that pleases you both.
  • Warm colors are said to stimulate the appetite. Bright reds and bright yellows (seen in the logos and interiors of dozens of restaurants) can also agitate and excite as they stimulate, so keep an eye on your loved one's disposition when you're out to eat. 
  • Our loved ones crave routine, but changing the familiar just a little can help stimulate their memory. Make a point of changing one thing per week in their room. Move that photograph, bring in a new comforter, add some fresh or silk flowers. Ask if they notice anything different. You might be surprised by the response.
  • A color that feels wonderful to you in small or large amounts may feel the opposite to someone else if presented in large amounts. I learned that when playing miniature golf several years ago on a course that had different color carpets for the greens. I enjoyed playing the violet green, the green green, and the blue green. Those colors felt relaxing to be around. When I got to the yellow green, I suddenly became so agitated I had to leave. I didn't walk away. I ran off the course. The yellow was glow-in-the-dark yellow and made me extremely uncomfortable; large amounts of strong yellow can stimulate a fear response in those who are sensitive to it. I'm sure I'm in the minority of golfers who play that course, but I share that story to make the point that experiences of color are individual and are not to be judged.
  • Color preferences can change, no matter what age or condition we are in. Allow that to be and decorate with neutral enough base colors so that you can easily adjust your accessories should that become necessary.
  • Bold and splashy prints may or may not go over well with your loved one. Their increasing sensitivity to all things means it's necessary to reach a balance between pleasing them without overstimulating them. I like to stay at a budget-friendly motel chain that features the same comforters in each room, no matter which location at which I stay. I'm getting to the point where I'm probably going to have to find another place to stay as I've become increasingly uncomfortable with the garish comforters covering me as I sleep. I can only imagine my mother's response to these comforters. The colors would indeed set her off.
Playing with color can be great fun. I invite you to try different ideas to see what works best in your household. Good luck!

Sheryl Lynn is the author of the upcoming book "The Light Is A Thank You," which chronicles the spiritual journey through dementia she has taken with her mother, Eleanor. She is the host of "Glow With The Flow Radio Show," currently on hiatus.

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Original content Sheryl Lynn, the Alzheimer's Reading Room