Quality of life rises to a higher priority as options become more and more limited. When we first realized that Mama was beginning to display signs of dementia, our family made the unconscious decision to try to fill her life with as much joy as possible. I say ‘unconscious decision’ because, at that point, we didn’t know much about dementia. All we knew was that our smart and witty Mama, who enjoyed eating out, swimming and attending concerts would experience more joy if we tucked as many of these events as possible into her daily life.
These activities must be done on purpose. A default response can easily be to find the proverbial ‘rocking chair’, sit down and rock into oblivion. There may be some prodding and pestering involved in keeping your loved one active and as social as possible.
Bringing joy into Mama’s world didn’t always involve leaving the house. She enjoyed watching her goldfish swim about as well as a wide variety of old movies such as “The Sound of Music” and the ‘Three Stooges”. We also hung a finch sock filled with thistle outside the living room window, so she could watch all the beautiful, yellow finches flit and fly as they came and went from the bag throughout the day.
We went to as many places as possible as well. Leaving the house has its own set of challenges. Since Mama also suffered from diabetes, her ‘go bag’ needed to include a glucose monitor and a small packet of honey (found at coffee shops) in case her blood sugar dropped. Other things became necessary over time such as Depends and a change of clothes in order for Mama to stay active.
Change continues to happen. For example, before Mama broke her hip, she enjoyed taking a walk as often as possible. She was also quite social and loved to visit, even though she didn’t always make sense.
Once she couldn’t walk anymore, we put more emphasis on chatting, singing and praying. She also enjoyed looking out the window watching people and cars go by. As time went on the visiting became more and more one-sided and I would sing songs to her, read out loud and pray for her.
The search for joy and contentment is not limited to those with dementia. For every person, the pursuit will of necessity, require flexibility as needs and abilities change.
Quality of life became a focus when my husband and I retired and moved across the country, we had to discover what activities would be included in our new lifestyle. We do keep busy. We have become beekeepers. Our backyard is small, but on a creek, so we have a good place for the bees to buzz around and (hopefully) make us lots of honey.
We also have hung several bird feeders that have attracted a lovely community of songbirds that we can watch from our dining room table. Quite a few of the birds are new to us here like cardinals, wrens, finches, sparrows and woodpeckers along with doves, titmice, nuthatches, threshers, and jays. We also have a couple of hummingbird feeders and enjoy watching the tiny little beauties visit the feeder throughout the day. For comic relief, we have several squirrels that chase and play all day long. Their main goal in life seems to be to get into the bird feeders (even though Wayne feeds them peanuts every morning). When my sister Peggy and her husband came out to visit they bought us a special bird feeder that has a sensor on it. If a squirrel jumps on the perch, they end up spinning off. We call it ‘Twirl a Squirrel’ or ‘Squirrel-Go-Round’. They are quite persistent (and apparently thick-headed) as they try over and over.
Every stage and season of life will develop its own version of what expresses a good ‘quality of life’. Interests and abilities further define it for each person. If you’re not sure where to begin, here is a site that contains 25 Habits for Improving the Quality of your Life
Find your joy, finish well.
Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook