At the Alzheimer’s Association we often hear from families that their first reaction after a diagnosis is one of relief, because now they finally know what they are dealing with. However, what follows shortly after is a profound sense of loss at what’s to come as the disease progresses.
What many people don’t understand is that while this disease steals so much of the person known and loved by friends and family, changes can happen relatively slowly. Speech, for instance, begins to deteriorate with a person initially having trouble finding nouns and eventually, they may be unable to put sentences together. Following step-by-step instructions or a recipe may get increasingly difficult. Balance may be impacted so falling down and dropping and spilling things may occur more often. In addition, the ability to use good judgment to make decisions may begin to decrease. That doesn’t mean life can’t be enjoyed, or trips can’t be taken or new adventures can’t be planned. Simple adjustments may just need to be made to the way you’ve always done things.
One man, who thoroughly enjoyed cooking in his beautifully-equipped kitchen, enlisted his wife’s help. They removed all the sharp knives, labeled drawers and moved things around so he could easily find what he needed. Then they simplified recipes and used the ones still most familiar to him so he could continue doing what he loved. Another couple who loved to dance was worried the wife’s balance problems would mean they had to stop. In fact, her dancing feet remembered all the right steps. And yet another family switched to croquet instead of golf and now the grandchildren get out on the course with grandpa, giving them a wonderful new way to play and interact together.
Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease but it doesn’t have to bring life to a screeching halt. You can still do what you enjoy, maybe just a little differently. In fact slowing things down a bit and allowing additional time for an activity creates a more comfortable and enjoyable environment for someone with dementia . Figure out what kinds of activities are available in your area and adapt them when you can. If you enjoy visiting local museums, find out if there are hours when the crowds are smaller and whether there are docents who are trained for groups with special needs. The Denver Art Museum has a program specifically for those with dementia called Art and About that is coordinated with the Alzheimer’s Association. Tours are offered each time a new exhibit comes to town. Walking trails designed for the sight impaired offer a unique way to follow guided walkways when balance and direction are issues for a friend or family member with dementia. If you’ve always loved to camp, try an RV instead of a tent. A pop up camper or RV makes things easier on the care partner. More time can be spent enjoying the out of doors than on the set up, cooking and cleaning up involved with tent camping. If gardening is a special hobby, create a special bin for equipment and help mom find it each time she wants to putter with her roses. And try large-print playing cards to keep dad winning at the Bridge table. Keeping your friend or loved one busy, active, engaged and socializing may mean the disease progresses just a little bit slower. Regardless of the activity or the hobby, the real benefit is that by looking for ways to keep someone you love doing what they love, you have been given the gift of time with them to treasure.