Being a caregiver takes it toll emotionally, especially if your patient is a family member. It’s often difficult to not get hung up on all the things she can’t do anymore. It’s becomes too sad to think about the person who once was, the social butterfly or the active politician, the all-around athlete or the college professor, the avid reader or master chef. Whenever these thoughts creep up we need to shift our focus from what the person can’t do to what he/she can do. When we do this effectively the moments of joy happen more often.
Let’s start with the kitchen. Any kind of cooking is out of the question once your loved one gets to the end stages of this disease. However, peeking into the pot or the oven and watching the finished product coming out brings joy to my mom like it’s Christmas morning. Even making the salad is too difficult but mom can still use a peeler on the cucumbers, carrots and potatoes while I work on the lettuce and the dicing. Washing dishes can be done if the dishes are soaking in warm, soapy water with the scrubby sitting right on top. Putting food and condiments away after a meal may be too confusing but if given a damp sponge your loved one will spend plenty of time wiping the counters and tables down.
The person with dementia doesn’t think about housework anymore but it can be done together. I dust while mom runs the vacuum, after I get it out, plug it in and point it in the right direction, that is. My mother can sweep and wash the floor too, if I get her all set up. Your loved one won’t be the best at folding clothes but if you watch, they’ll lovingly put lots of time and effort into this chore.
As the body slows down, walking the road fast or climbing a mountain is out of the question. It’s important, as we all know, to keep the body moving. So, mom takes a walk most days. Of course, someone must go with her. She can’t go too far and she walks so verrrrrry slowly, BUT she walks! And gets fresh air. Sometimes I march in circles around her to pick up my pace. Mom thinks that’s hilarious. Another activity we do in our house to get mom out of the chair is dancing. If the music is upbeat, and I’m dancing too, she can hardly resist joining in.
Naturally, someone in late stage dementia cannot drive. Going for a ride is still very enjoyable and mom gets her ride in everyday. As I write this, autumn in New England is bursting with color and the views are breathtaking. I don’t think your brain has to work properly to appreciate such beauty. Even if you’re driving around in a metro area the sights are plentiful. The things you see create conversation, albeit one sided, but still…
The ability to speak and make sense gets lost with dementia but communication goes on. As we know, much of our communication is done non-verbally ,with facial expressions and other body language. In Part II of Shift The Focus I’ll write more about this communication and how shifting our focus can create those moments of joy we strive for each day as cargivers.