Send in the Butterflies

Back when my Mama was in the early stages of dementia, we tried to help her be as active as possible by taking walks, eating at restaurants and walking laps at a local gym that has an indoor pfinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_1ool.

In the course of these outings, we naturally came across folks who didn’t know that she had dementia. Since Mama was very social and friendly, she would often initiate a conversation with someone. It usually didn’t take too long before the other person would begin to suspect that the nice lady they were chatting with was not functioning at 100 %. Sometimes it was a bit of a dilemma; we didn’t want to dishonor Mama by talking about her as if she wasn’t there, but at the same time, we needed to clue them into what was going on.

We would try to catch the person’s eye and mouth the word dementia’.  A puzzled expression was quickly replaced by a smile and nod as understanding dawned.

A couple of recent articles has proposed excellent solutions for those ‘awkward moments’.

The first one tells about a using a card the size of a busfinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_2iness card to relay the information: New ‘purple card’ system would help people with dementia 

Madeleine Fraley’s husband has dementia, so she created a simple card explaining the situation that she could discretely hand to someone. The purple-hued card  states, “My companion has memory problems. Please be patient. Thank you!” 

What a brilliant idea! That would have been quite useful to have on our outings.

The other clever idea is really more for a hospital or medical situation. They are using butterflies to help ifinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_3dentify patients who are suffering from dementia. The butterfly symbol is stamped on everything associated with the patient. Staff is trained  to keep an eye out for the symbol so they can support and treat the patients appropriately.

Francesca Hall, the hospital’s dementia champion states, “It’s vital that people know that a patient has dementia so they can treat and support that person appropriately to ensure the best care possible.

The important thing here is to keep your loved one as active and social as possible while continuing to treat them with dignity and honor.

Bingo was their game-O

My husband is a tour bus driver. His destinations vary widely depending on whether he is taking the group to a flower show or the theatre in the bay area, a sports team to a tournament, or even transporting farm workers.

Occasionally, he takes a bus full of (usually) ladies to a Bingo night. These Bingo enthusiasts are serious players. The trip takes a few hours, but the bingo games begin in earnest as soon as the first passengers are on the bus. They play bingo all the way to their destination, play for several hours, and continue the game all the way back to where the journey began.

“Bingo enhances cognitive performance in people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease”
“Bingo enhances cognitive performance in people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease”

He enjoys the bingo run and sometimes even gets roped into filling in for a player while they take necessary breaks. It requires quite a bit of concentration as there are usually a couple dozen cards to keep track of all at the same time.

On one trip, he happened to notice the most fascinating thing: These ladies are sharp! If someone missed a number, and calls out, “What was that last number?” Several begin to recite a long string of recent numbers that had been called.

Bingo is good for the brain

Did I mention that most of the bingo players are 65 + years old? I wondered if there was something about the game of bingo that helped keep the mind tuned up, as it were. I Googled benefits of bingo, and….bingo! there it was:

“New Study Finds Bingo Has Large Benefits on the Aging Mind” 

According to the study, “Loss of visual perception is a common feature of old age (this is most prominent in people with dementia) and that is why Bingo is such a good tool to combat this. It promotes interaction and mental engagement.”  It goes on the state, ”Researchers discovered that large bingo cards with a high contrast increase playing abilities and thinking skills.”

“Bingo enhances cognitive performance in people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease”

The general finding of improved performance across healthy and afflicted groups suggests the value of visual support as an easy-to-apply intervention to enhance cognitive performance,” researchers from Case Western Reserve University, Boston University and Bridgewater State University wrote.

You don’t necessarily have to hop on a bus to receive bingo’s benefits since most centers that offer activities for seniors include the game of bingo.

Perhaps it is time to give bingo a try – what do you have to lose?

The 3 R’s

Back in the old days, getting an education was often referred to as “learning the 3 R’s: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic”. In light of the significant losses connected with the progression of dementia as well as the fact that we are all steadily getting older, I would like to suggest a second set of 3R’s for this season of our lives: Remember, Record and Reconnect



We all have a story. It may not begin with ‘Once upon a time’…or end with ‘Happily ever after’, but each person on the planet has a life narrative – our own ‘Who, What, When, Whys and Hows’. If you were asked where you were born and why your folks lived in that particular place, would you be able to answer? If you have children, do they know why you lived where you did when they were born? Family history is a precious thing. It’s never too early to ask some basic questions in order to fill in the blanks—but it can be too late!

In my own search to fill in some of the blanks of my life, I emailed, called and used Facebook to try to get those answers. I knew I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but had no idea why my parents lived there at the time. Since my Dad has already passed away, and my Mama is in the end stage of dementia, I can’t ask them. Thankfully, an older relative was able to fill in that particular blank for me. Though I wish my parents had written more down, or that I had asked more questions, it’s not too late for me to remember and write a basic outline of my life for those who come after me. Remembering who they are, hinge upon who I am.


After writing down geographic locations and interesting tidbits, the second important R would be ‘Record’. Read it into the mic—any recording device will do. Most phones have a record app that can be emailed to a computer. Don’t wait until you have your narrative perfect. The important thing here is the sound of your voice, not even the content. I wish I had a recording of my Mama’s voice from when she could talk. Even if you don’t do the ‘Remember’ part, do the ‘Record’. Our voices are the gifts that we leave for others. Even reading a favorite poem or story would be appreciated by some who come after you.


Is there someone in your life with whom you haven’t connected with in a while? Are there any family member who might like to hear from you? Who have you lost contact with? Perhaps there is someone you need to forgive.  Facebook is a wonderful way to find folks to make an initial contact, however meeting in person may be a better way to catch up with an old friend.

Take a lesson from the 3 R’s and do a bit of homework today.