To a degree I knew that simple things could make our elders, and dementia patients in particular, feel better a long time ago. The nursing home I worked for encouraged youth participation, hired teenagers to do odd jobs and otherwise worked to make their patients happy. I didn’t truly appreciate it until now.
Something that seems to be next to nothing for us makes a big deal to a dementia patient. Imagine being stuck in your body with no memory of how you got to be where you are. Imagine not understanding why people look at you funny when you speak. Imagine the boredom that occurs because it’s difficult to read, hold a conversation or do any of the things you now do to amuse yourself. It gives one pause.
A Meal: Our elder told me last week, as we sat in the main dining room, what a treat it was. The food wasn’t all that different, but the ambiance was. I hadn’t really paid attention. People in the memory care unit eat in the unit unless a relative or friend escorts them to and from the main dining room. They don’t have tablecloths. They don’t have menus. There isn’t a diversity of new people to see. Now I make sure I take her there once a week. It’s not a big deal…for me. It is for her.
A Walk: Our elder can’t walk far, but she does like to get outside for a bit. Unless someone is with her, she can’t go outside. It’s not because of the dementia…other dementia patients can, as there is a nice enclosed garden with comfortable seats in both sun and shade. It’s because she’s a fall risk. She doesn’t like to stay out long, but it’s a big thing for her.
Poetry: I kind of had an idea that this would be useful for some of the residents. Our elder spent time instructing me in proper diction, which made her feel good. Some of the residents were brought over to listen, but others weren’t inclined.
There is one man there who is almost totally uninterested in the world around him. I’ve smiled at him and talked to him, but usually only get a smile in return. When I started reading, he was in the farthest corner of the room. About halfway through, I looked up and he was sitting right across from me, smiling and nodding his head.
None of these are big things. They aren’t things to toot my horn about. That’s not the message. The message is that each of these little things…things that don’t take a lot of time or effort…mean so much to a patient suffering from dementia.
If you have a friend or relative with this problem, you may want to look into the small ways you can make a big difference. It doesn’t have to be every day or every week. However, once in a while, spending time with them will mean the world to them. It’s worth the effort.