Apr 25, 2011

Worth A Try – Surprises Await -- Does the Parrot Work?

Audrey grinned and giggled through all of that too, paying attention throughout. These are glorious moments of connection and experience that I’m happily present to witness.

By Pamela R. Kelley
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Each of us giving care to a loved one with dementia has a one-of-a-kind challenge.

Admittedly, there’s so much we have in common. Yet each of our loved ones experiences the ravages of disease in ways unique to them.

It’s our intimate knowledge of our loved one’s traits that lead us sometimes to dismiss ideas others offer for ways to enhance daily living with Alzheimer’s in the house.

After all, we know what they’re like.

That’s how I explain my long delay in trying one of those repeating parrots, like Pete and Harvey.

I had listened to the amazing interplay between Dotty and Harvey, and I’d watched the video clips. But I put the idea on the back burner because it simply didn’t seem like something my mother, Audrey, would enjoy.

After all, she hears very poorly. She reacts very slowly.

She gets angry when she doesn’t understand what’s happening.

Her social anxiety extends to everyone and everything that is not me. She remains proud and insecure. She is prone to lash out in embarrassment or frustration. When I imagined her reacting to a repeating parrot, I could not conjure up many good scenarios without a whole lot of concentration.

But as Audrey’s 81st birthday approached. I thought a parrot would add something fun to the birthday festivities, understated though they would be. So I bought the parrot.

And Audrey surprised me.

Mom and I were sitting at the breakfast table, sipping our coffee and reading the weather page in the newspaper. I excused myself and fetched Petey, turned him on and perched him at an empty place at the table. And I started with “Happy Birthday Audrey.” You know what happened –

“Happy Birthday Audrey."
"Happy Birthday Audrey.”

Mom cautiously smiled and laughed. After watching me for about ten minutes, she took her chance and talked to the parrot to see what he said in return. More smiles, more laughter. This became a matter of interest to our dog, Sophie, who likes her role as the center of the universe. Petey was some sort of usurper. Sophie trotted over and gave the parrot a long look.

I couldn’t resist. “Hi Sophie.”

“Hi Sophie”
“Hi Sophie”

Sophie couldn’t believe this, and made that clear. Bark bark BARK.

“Bark bark BARK”
“Bark bark BARK”

Audrey giggled. She clapped her hands. She laughed even more.

Sophie proceeded to talk in whines and whimpers to Pete for an amusing 30 minutes of back and forth. Audrey grinned and giggled through all of that too, paying attention throughout. These are glorious moments of connection and experience that I’m happily present to witness.

Since that introduction, I’ve been giving Petey ten minute routines to engage Mom happily while I can read my email or an article abstract. All I can surmise is that I should have gotten a parrot a long time ago.

I was wrong – there was a place for Petey in Audrey’s day. She made the room for him in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.

The Best Way to Find Solutions to the Problems that Caregivers Face Each Day

Friends, give this parrot a try. Seeing is believing. We’ve gotten ten times our money’s worth in enjoyment just over the last week. What can it hurt? Bob reports that Harvey has greater range. And that lion looks pretty intriguing too. All I know is this was one offbeat notion that was well worth testing.

And now that goofy bird has me talking to it too.

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Pamela R. Kelley As she transitioned to full-time caregiving, she prepared a resource manual and presented lectures on long-distance caregiving to her UAA colleagues. She is a 25-year member of the Alaska Bar Association, and concentrated her years of active practice in the areas of commercial transactions and creditor representation in complex bankruptcy cases. Over the years, she has published many articles on topics as varied as cyber-stalking and antitrust law. Ms. Kelley lives, works and writes in Anchorage, Alaska.


Alzheimer's Reading Room. Pamela R. Kelley. Worth A Try – Surprises Await -- Does the Parrot Work?