Creating Magic Moments in Dementia Care

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by Mary Ann Drummond, RN 

From the moment we take our first breath a time line begins marking the moments of our lives. There are many events to celebrate such as first steps, first words, first bike ride, first car, first kiss and even first love. We continue adding to our time line as we age, starting families, careers and doing those things that we know to be important and expected of us.

Education? Check.

Providing for our family? Check.

Taking care of our self? Well, at least we try.

Time passes and the story of life unfolds with each defining moment a permanent thread in our tapestry. Some are fragrant roses while others are the thorns we wish we could remove.

For dementia caregivers the thorns can begin as soon as the diagnosis is received. Many of us will experience what it means to have a loved one diagnosed with dementia. With one in eight individuals over 65, and one in two over 80 currently having Alzheimer’s disease it is hard to find someone not impacted in some way by Alzheimer’s alone, not to mention the many other forms of dementia that exist such as Lewy body, vascular and frontal-temporal.

The key to creating “magic moments” in dementia care is to seek “opportunities for success.” Too often we approach individuals who have dementia with a mindset of “disability” thinking of all they can not do for themselves. While this is necessary in daily care, it is also necessary to be highly mindful of the “ability” still present, and do our best to capitalize on what the individual can still do for themselves, even if it is not 100% as perfect as you would do.

As loving and willful caregivers we take over all tasks, leaving them with nothing to do all day but sit around and become bored. To be left without cognitive, physical, sensory and spiritual stimulation is bad for anyone, and especially bad for the person with dementia. Studies have proven the result of inappropriate stimulation will be restlessness, lack of sleep, disruptive behavior, inability to focus and there will even be increased potential for combative behaviors. These are not the magic moments we are striving for!

So what would be appropriate activities to promote opportunities for success and bring the magic moments? Below is a list of five ideas to try. You will find it may take a few attempts before you are comfortable, but one thing is certain: The closer you come to the individuals personal long term hobbies, likes, interests and routine the closer you will be to a magic moment in your care giving journey!

Sing like no one is listening!

It has been said that music is the universal language and this remains true in dementia care. No matter what the stage of disease process, singing a familiar tune out loud such as Jingle Bells, You Are My Sunshine, or their favorite song usually elicits a positive response. You may even find individuals who no longer communicate verbally can still hum or follow along some with you in familiar lyrics.

Take a stroll down memory lane together.

Reminiscing therapy is a powerful art form that can be done any time two or more are gathered together. All you need are a few props such as an old photograph, magazine, or trinket that has a story, and then begin to tell the story. “This is a picture of you and Dad on your wedding day…you are wearing your Mother’s wedding dress…” Place the picture in their hand and let them hold it. “You had a bouquet of roses…” If you can give them a rose to smell at this point, you have likely just hit a home run as you now have used auditory, verbal and tactile cuing, all of which is necessary to increase the chances that your message will be successful. Sit back and watch the magic moments begin…

Household chores can be fun together.

While there needs to be discretion in regards to the complexity of the task, allowing them to help you with certain chores such as dusting with a feather duster, wiping off the table, putting the napkins out before dinner, etc., is not only an opportunity for success but it also gives one a feeling of self worth. Practice this as frequently as one allows you to do so. Sorting, stacking, folding, snacking: Colored socks need to be matched. Assorted wash cloths and hand towels need to be folded. The books need to be stacked. Whew! We have worked really hard today. Would you like to join me for a snack? I have your FAVORITE? And that is when you pull out the PIÈCE DE RÉSISTANCE that is truly their favorite snack as we know it can be difficult to keep the calories high enough when they are in the pacing/wandering stages of the disease process.

Normalization Time:

What was their routine for getting up each day? For going to bed at night? Did they do devotion in the evening with their family? Did they have a glass of orange juice and bowl of cereal every morning? If there was a particular habit that was routine and normal for the individual try as much as possible to ensure this is “normalized” into their daily routine.

For additional information, the Alzheimer’s Association is an excellent resource and has an abundance of information readily available.

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