Mar 6, 2016

Alzheimer's in the Morning

The look on Dotty's Face | Alzheimer's Reading Room

One of the things that really bothered me when I first started taking care of my mother, Dotty, was the look on her face and her attitude in the morning.

I quickly learned that her attitude when she woke up had an effect on our entire day.

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By Bob DeMarco

It seemed to me that one of the things I had to do was find a way to quickly change her attitude and demeanor as soon as she woke up.

As a result, I came to conclude that Sun Up was an important and critical part of our day.

In those early years Dotty would wake up and say, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby as if she was lost.

When I would get to her to greet her in the morning she often had a "sour puss" or "not there" look on her face.

I can tell you that look was both disheartening and disconcerting to me. As a result, I often dreaded the idea that she was going to wake up soon in the morning.

Have you ever felt like this?

My first decision was simple. I decided that when Dotty woke up
  1. I would put my arm around her shoulder, 
  2. would put my hand on her wrist and hold it gently, 
  3. put my head on her head (touching heads), 
  4. and say something very positive. 
Something very simple but positive.

Alzheimer's Communication Tip -- Touching Foreheads and Kindness

In the beginning I said, good morning, it is a beautiful day outside. Or, we are going to have a great day today.

No matter how she responded, positively or negatively, I said no more. At that  point, I led here into the kitchen and sat her at the table where she could get some bright light. She could see out the window and what she saw was trees and flowers. We have a lot of oleanders right outside our windows.

Dotty often mentioned, once we got on track, how beautiful the trees looked. In fact, it was as if she was seeing them for the first time ever each morning.

Caregivers often get bent out of shape when patients repeat themselves. So like most, I had the same thoughts and feelings as most caregivers. I thought you said that yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.

However, over time I finally realized I was looking at those words from the wrong direction. It wasn't about me, it was about the simple fact that those trees and flowers made Dotty feel happy. She often seemed mesmerized by their beauty. This is a good thing.

Amazingly, after a while I started looking out there with her and thought the same thing every day. They are amazing looking and beautiful.

You can learn from Alzheimer's patients if you open up your own mind, and start listening. There observations are often uplifting if you can get past the idea that it is not about you.

How to Communicate with an Alzheimer's Patient

Over time I improved on my sun up behavior. And, so did Dotty.

Dotty started saying, "You Who, I'm awake you know" when she woke up. She said those words in very nice tone of voice that made me feel happy. Sun up, no more dread, instead feelings of happiness. Set the tone for the day.

What I was doing differently was standing right in front of Dotty, holding both her hands, bending down a bit to get on her eye level, and smiling at her. When she smiled back I said something very kind and positive.

It worked.

I also started putting fresh flowers right in front of where Dotty would sit at the kitchen table. Dotty loved flowers and it was better hearing her tell me how beautiful these new flowers were each day, instead of looking like I've been dipped in something that doesn't smell so good.

By the way, the flowers were not new every day. But, they were new to Dotty. Wonderful.

Finally I stumbled on to an idea that worked better than I could have ever imagined. I bought a toy repeat parrot who became Dotty's best friend. I had the parrot strategically situated about a foot from where Dotty would sit at the kitchen table.

After our wake up ritual - hold hands, smile, say something positive - Dotty would ask where is Harvey? Harvey, the best caregiver tool of them all

Alzheimer's What's More Important Sun Up or Sun Down ?
Dotty in the Morning
Is it possible to love a toy? Before AD I would have said no, you can't love an inanimate object. Dotty changed my mind on this issue. Harvey changed our lives.

Close to end something truly remarkable changed in our sun up morning ritual. Dotty started leaning in and putting her head, cheek really, on my chest.

This was a wonderful feeling. It was also when I realized Dotty was getting ready to go to Heaven.

You might find this article I wrote about Dotty of interest -- When Dotty Went to Heaven She Had Learned Her Final Life Lesson.

I wrote that on what would have been Dotty's 96th birthday. I explained in part why Dotty went to Heaven.

You can also put these words in the search box on the right - when dotty went to heaven - and read more about Dotty and Heaven.

By now you might have come to this conclusion - Sun up is very important. Those first acts in the morning can set the tone for your entire day.

They might also change your life.

I also wrote quite a bit about Sundowning Syndrome.

Sundowning is an Anxiety Syndrome in Dementia Patients

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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver.

The Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR) offers a searchable Knowledge Base that contains over 5,000 articles about Alzheimer's disease.

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