Sunday, November 18, 2012

Playful Activities Bring Joy to Dementia Patients

When my Dad and I talk about the activities we do with people with dementia every week with our foundation, the Carolyn L. Farrell Foundation for Brain Health, many people do not understand that playful activities are important to successful management of dementia.

Our activities are simple, based on Montessori methods, but some people think that this is "too childish." However, it is reality that people with dementia slowly loose cognitive abilities and have a more childlike brain. This may sound sad upon first glance, but really it means they are more free to be imaginative and have fun with playful activities like wooden blocks, stacking materials, and abstract art activities.

If someone likes an activity and it brings them joy, who are we to judge if it is "childish" or not worthwhile? 
One year old Jeffrey joyfully playing with his blocks.

My husband and I play the same videogames as our son. I love to paint, draw, and create with paper. As a family, we build things with the wooden blocks my Dad helped us make for our son for his first birthday. I think all of these activities are worthwhile because they bring us joy and bring us together as a family.

Here is a great blog post from the Alzheimer's Reading Room about the importance of play for people with dementia: How Important is Play for Alzheimer's Patients in the Late Stages? It is also a fantastic example of how caregivers can advocate for and insist on good care from nursing homes and in-home caregivers.

I encourage us all to be more imaginative, have more fun, and embrace the joy of our childhood spirit.


Rev. Katie

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Service Dog Helping with Dementia

About four months ago we adopted a puppy who we are training to be my Psychiatirc Service Dog. While this training can take years, and our puppy Rosie is still just trying to learn how to contain her puppy energy, I find her to be an amazingly intuitive service dog. I have had many dogs over my lifetime but few have been so in tune with the emotional needs of the people around them as Rosie is, and she is just in the first few months of training.

Today we had a family party and we were able to have Mom over to our house. Rosie was in her crate for the beginning of the party and after everyone arrived, I let her out. We had about twenty people in the house and instead of saying "hello" to the people that were in the room she was in, Rosie instead went directly to see my Mom. A person she has only met twice.

Rosie was so attached to my Mom that my Aunt thought Rosie must have lived with my parents before we moved into our new house. She assumed Rosie knew Mom and missed her. Rosie was jumping up on my Mom, trying to get into the Broda chair with her. While this was not the best choice for Rosie because she was too hyper, her instincts were correct.

Rosie somehow knows to "ground" people when they are injured or hurting. This is a deep pressure therapy where the weight of the dog helps to calm the person who is anxious. Rosie's instinct is to lay herself on top of people to help make them feel safe and comforted. "Grounding" will be a Psychiatiric Service Dog task that Rosie will be able to do, gently, on command but right now she does it in her hyper puppy way becasuse she just wants to help other people.
Rosie "grounding" me.
I am continually amazed at the connection that animals have to us. I can't believe how Rosie knew, out of a houseful of twenty people who were in separate rooms, to go straight to the person who needed the most love and care. I felt so proud of Rosie today and her ability to help others. I also felt a great connection with Mom as she and I always cared for our dogs together throughout our lives. Rosie trying to take care of Mom was, for me, kind of another way that Mom and I are still connected despite the fog of dementia that keeps getting thicker and thicker. I am glad my puppy can see through the fog even better than most people can.


Rev. Katie

Friday, November 16, 2012

Freedom of the Mind

I was browsing around on Facebook and saw this quote from French writer and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery: "I know but one freedom, and that is the freedom of the mind." I think this quote is from his story The Little Prince, which is a well loved classic.

This quote caught my eye and immediatly made me think of my Mom and other people with dementia. Actually it even made me think of those of us with mental illness. It is a reality for some of us that we do not have "freedom of the mind." 
Photo by cmartian on Flickr Creative Commons

We don't even know what really happens to the mind with dementia except that plaques build up in the brain and stop it from working- sometimes all of it, sometimes just part of it. One could argue that this is not freedom of the mind because you have lost the ability to use much of your mind. One could also argue that this is almost imprisonment of the mind becuase one of the things we are not sure of is if the person can think and inside, their brain functions just fine but it does not work well enough to send all the correct signals to get the infomation they want out of their brain.

This sounds like a scary idea, but I have to admit that sometimes I see this with Mom. I can see her brow furrow as she is thinking of something she wants to say or she is trying to move her legs and her brain just won't let her do it. If I look into her eyes, I still see her in there and I do wonder if she is experiencing some sort of imprisonment in her brain. I hate that this could be happening to her, and I actually know how it feels. Some of the medications I have taken for bipolar disorder disrupt cognitive functioning and I would know exactly what I wanted to say and be unable to, or I would try and control my arm and it would not do what I asked of it. It is a terrible experience.

While I think Antoine de Saint-Exupery's quote is prophetic in a way by saying that we always have that freedom, freedom of mind, and the idea is that no one can take that freedom away from you. I also think it is problematic because there are illnesses that can take that freedom away. And if this is the ultimate of all freedoms, what does that mean for those of us who do not have it? For me, I wonder if the one freedom I can think of is freedom of the spirit. I always see Mom's spirit even in the midst of dementia.