A few months ago, I visited an old family friend who had recently invited her aging mother to live with her family.
Mom was apparently having more difficulty managing her self care, and there was an underlying worry about night time safety. With the diagnosis of advancing dementia, it was resolved that the safest solution was that mom would relocate to her daughter's residence.
Upon my arrival, a quick scan of the environment led to an interesting discovery. The family home was bustling with activity; there was a meal being prepared, laundry being folded, and children completing school work. Everyone had a place and purpose, and there was a steady stream of noise from pots clanging, children’s laughter, and the pet hamster who had suddenly developed an affinity for chasing about on his wheel. Everyone was active and engaged... until I noticed the one lone figure who was not really involved in anything.
An elderly parent sat in the corner of the room, peering out the window, somehow disconnected from the chatter and laughter surrounding her. When queried if there was a cause for concern or illness, my friend replied that this was the norm for mom since her arrival; she was an avid observer, but did not initiate activities or offer to partake in the household chores.
I suspected that the change of environment was probably contributing to mom’s disconnect as she tried to reestablish herself in unfamiliar surroundings. After all, the old homestead was so familiar, and there was an established routine. Things in this new environment were confusing and noisy, and her memory issues impacted her ability to adapt.
Later that evening, when the household slowed into a more relaxed rhythm, I gently asked if the family had considered helping mom engage in some meaningful activities. Finding ways for her to contribute would promote feelings of self esteem, enhance physical activity, and provide opportunities to engage in a role that was familiar to her.
We discussed the factors affecting individuals with advancing dementia in relationship to their ability to start or join in a project. Perhaps mom was not only struggling to adapt, but potentially lacked the cognitive skills to become actively involved in this bustling household.
Together we looked at a possible plan of action to help her mom feel connected to this new environment, which was more than likely contributing to her confusion and sedentary response.
My friend decided to capitalize on mom’s strengths by assisting her to perform tasks that were familiar, meaningful, and purposeful.
Mom always washed and dried the laundry for her family, even in their teen years. A basket of towels was left within arm's reach, and when asked to help with the chore at hand, she immediately began folding. Tip: Asking “will you” as opposed to “can you” removes the inference of inability.
We discussed helping with food preparation, perhaps using a potato peeler to ready the spuds for dinner, or breaking the lettuce for salad. The supper preparation, once broken down into smaller steps allowed for mom's contribution.
Mom enjoyed puttering and when given the chore of sorting and matching socks, she was up to the task. Some were mismatched, but it didn't matter because she was humming and smiling, as she commented on the size of the children's feet.
There was a box of old pictures in the basement, and upon retrieval a new world opened. Mom was suddenly talking about the past, an area where she excelled. Although not all photos were familiar, the activity in itself created animated responses.
Tip: Most communities offer supervised, adult day programs for seniors who are looking for socialization, and the opportunity to engage in meaningful activities with other elders. Accessing your local community program's office will clarify the application process and affiliated costs.
Tip: Research "Montessori" techniques as they apply to adults with dementia, to help in creating an environment of acceptance that fosters self esteem.
The family soon began to realize that mom was more alert and involved in the daily proceedings. She had found her purpose, and with their loving help she was able to find a way to contribute.
Suddenly there was a sense that the hustle and bustle included the newest occupant, and she was "just fine" with that!
(Picture credits: Globeandmail.com)