Monday, September 12, 2011

Some comfortable shoes

No one's asked me, and I'm hardly an expert but here's a quick list of the things we've done that have kept our mother functioning at a relatively normal level. While Mummy cannot select her own clothing, she still is able to manage her personal hygiene routine. As Alzheimer's Disease progresses, the simple act of brushing one's own teeth becomes a challenge but we have found a few aids that have helped keep Barbs Barbs for a while longer. By all reports from her physician, her progression is fairly slow and we are very thankful for that.

If you know someone with Alzheimer's Disease, or are a caregiver yourself, you may want to try one or two of these.
  1. Physical exercise. Mummy hates it and avoids the exercise bicycle like it's a communicable disease BUT once she cycles, the blood flow to the brain (I think) yields short term gains in her functioning;
  2. Brain exercises: puzzles. Again, Barbs doesn't much like these but we firmly believe that the brain is a muscle and needs to be worked. We use children's puzzles with 24 pieces. These are doable and yet require the thinking skill (does this match with that) that pushes the brain to work a little harder;
  3. Games: We just discovered an outdoor game called Corn Hole that is both physical activity and brain activity. The goal of the game is to toss a bag (filled with corn) into a hole. The challenge is that you have to figure out how to toss the bag to get it all the way to the opposite side of the field of play. When Mummy tried the game last weekend, we found her engaged and focused, in a way that she isn't much of the time;
  4. Music: We come from a singing and piano playing family. My grandmother was a lover of hymns and so Mummy knows many, many hymns and her experience of music goes back to the womb practically. When she is obviously discombobulated, we turn on the hymn CDs. We've also found that any of the music she loved works just as well. So, we've used Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, Marian Anderson, collections of Negro Spirituals and the music from our old choir. It seems that music memory is slower to fade. Our response to music is visceral so even if the patient has forgotten the words (which Mummy hasn't yet), the melodies and how they make her feel remains. 
  5. Conversation: A caregiver who is good at keeping the patient engaged and talking about their life is a real boon. This may be easier with a stranger than a family member. Conversations with family tend to draw on shared experiences whereas conversations with a caregiver (by definition a stranger) have no such basis. It's just sharing of information. It requires the patient to draw from their experiences but misremembering details doesn't break communications down as it might with a family member;
  6. Laughter: Someone who can get the patient laughing and focused on nonsense rather than on the chaos inside his/her head is a real help as well. Sometimes, just keeping things light really helps to relieve the pressure for the patient.
Some of these things may have little long term effect but laughter and conversation for example ease the way on a daily basis and make life a little more tolerable for all concerned.

None of this is easy and much of this isn't exactly fun, but all that aside, if this is your life...........Well, let's say this, if this is the road you have to walk, best to walk it in comfortable shoes.


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