While the tips I will be describing are from a memory care unit, they can be used in other facilities, churches or even at home. Interaction with people is extremely important to improve cognitive function and to slow down cognitive decline.
Past Careers: Our elder spent ten years doing hair in the motion picture industry. She has an impressive list of stars she’s worked with. This has been a source and resource in her unit. As an example, today we had “pretty hair day.” She turned my hip length mane into a crown of braids, explaining what she was doing. She’s also been encouraged to talk about her time as a model, an actress and a real estate agent.
Our elders have lived fascinating lives. Many actually did go from horseback to space stations. Some were stay at home wives…but that doesn’t mean they don’t have stories. Getting our elders to talk about their lives helps them, each other and us. You can learn a lot just listening to them.
Finding the Right Button: Some of our elders are shy. Some don’t want to talk about their past, perhaps because it was painful. Some have memory difficulties. Finding a way to get them to comfortably interact is important. As an example, a few of the women in the unit found coloring eggs beneath their dignity. As with our elder, they are considered high functioning, and I can understand how the felt. However, they were very interested in the hair demonstrations (I wasn’t the only volunteer).
Get Involved: This is probably the most important thing you can do for your elders. Get involved. I remember, as a child, sitting on the front porch helping prepare fruits and vegetables for canning/freezing. Me, my grandparents, at least one aunt, a cousin (sometimes more), my siblings and mom were all working together. While we worked, we talked. We were all involved. I believe it helped my grandparents a great deal…and not just the labor and food. Asking and answering questions, telling stories and feeling needed were the keys.
Our elders often depend on us for a great deal. That’s as it should be; we depended on them when we were children. Helping them stay involved helps prevent depression, improves outlook and can even help cognitive function. It can also be a lot of fun. Wherever they are, see what you can do to help the elders in your family interact with others.