Category Archives: Activities

Maintaining a good balance

I have one of those toothbrushes that pause every 30 seconds to let you know it’s time to change where you are brushing your teeth until the front and back of both the top and bottom teeth are brushed for a total of 2 minutes.finishing-well-in-life-bal

I also work on my balance while brushing. It occurred to me one day that if I stood on only one leg for each 30-second segment, it would help me maintain good balance. I’ve discovered that it also helps to pair activities up with something I am already doing in order to work it into a routine.

My daughter, a massage therapist, is always telling me about the importance of staying in balance. Even if I don’t do all my other stretching exercises every day, I will, at least be working on my balance. I did discover an interesting thing – if I close my eyes, I have to work harder to stay balanced. So, if you try this, please have something sturdy close enough to grab if you need to.

According to WebMD,  Keeping  muscles fit matters:  In a 2009 study of 900 seniors, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago reported that those who maintained muscle strength were significantly less likely to go on to develop memory impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

In an article in the Alzheimer’s Reading Room,  Bob DeMarco talks about discovering his mother’s trouble with balance. After he began to take her to the gym (at the age of 88), her balance improved dramatically. The article goes on to say that poor balance may indicate memory decline – another reason to work on improving balance.

If all of that wasn’t enough, there is one more motivation to develop better balance:

According to the study by the French Institute of Health and Medical Research and the University of Bordeaux, the risk of dementia may be higher for older people who have general anesthetics.

finishing-well-in-life-balaAfter my Mama had a hip operation, her body healed nicely, but the part of her brain that knew how to walk never came back on-line.

So my challenge to you…and myself is: How can we improve our balance? The gym? Stretching exercises? Standing on one leg? I realize it’s hard to add one more activity into an already busy day, but remember – it’s all about balance.

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

finishing_well-in-life-3Rs

REMEMBER:

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.

RECORD:

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.

RECONNECT:

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.

Finally finished

Have you ever noticed that the longer something takes to complete, the less likely it gets accomplished? I am a project person. Perhaps I get bored easily, but it seems to me that I always have something I’m working on. I can usually finish my short-term projects before I run out of steam or interest, but those that take longer….well, all kinds of things can crop up to interfere with my best intentions.

There are a host of reasons for not completing a task. Plans get canceled, seasons change and people pass away. I’ve begun some things (usually a craft project) only to  discover that I don’t have quite enough talent or ability.

So it came as a nice surprise, that I happen to come across a notebook– my ‘Grateful Journal’ that I had begun keeping back in 2012. It was in response to a book I had just finished reading titled: “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” By Ann Voskampfinishing_well-in-life-1000

According to her website, Ann Voskamp’s story is not happily ever after. As a child, her sister was crushed under a truck in front of her and her mother. Consequently, her mother checked herself into a psychiatric hospital and her father couldn’t find God. As an adult, she stood beside her brother-in-law as he buried his first two sons. Voskamp is a wife and mother who does not grin through the pain but battles to believe that in God is joy, and that there are as many gifts amid the grittiness of life as in the moments of celebration.

It’s a compelling narrative that challenged me to develop a more grateful heart in my everyday life. I began keeping a journal to create a list of 1000 things on my own journey towards a more grateful heart. Somewhere along the way life got busy, the journal got misplaced, and I didn’t even notice.

So as mentioned, I came across my journal. I sat down and began a trip back through time by way of short numbered entries:

  1. A warm shower
  2. Putting Aria’s letter in the mailbox
  3. Playing chess with Bambi

….there were also entries that had a star scribbled on the line, those were the ones where I chose to be grateful:

  1. Brian’s funeral *
  2. Didn’t get to Skype with Lillie & Zuri*
  3. Found lots of tomato worms*

As I read through the entries and scribbles, my heart began to melt. I remembered the various moments of joy, gratefulness and sorrow. Reading on, I realized that through it all, a picture was emerging from these pages – a picture of God’s faithfulness. It struck me that I needed to pick it back up and finish – all the way to 1000 entries.

Many, many months later, I’m happy to report that I have finally arrived at number 1000! Interesting thing though – now that I’m there, I can’t stop. I have discovered that life will move on with or without our noting, but the simple act of recording moments of gratefulness does something to our hearts as we move on with life.

Give it a try. Either read the book first to get a better idea, or grab a notebook and begin your own journey of gratefulness.

And a little child shall lead them

I have just arrived home after attending the monthly ‘Birthday Party’ held for residents at the care home where my Mama lives.  It was wonderful! Loosely Strung, a Tehama County band faithfully visits each month to play the old songs (including “Happy Birthday”) to help the celebration.

February is Mama’s birthday month and I had been looking forward to enjoying it with her. The residents seem to really take pleasure in the music, cake and ice cream. They engage at whatever level they can by clapping and singing along with old favorites.

Wayne and I try to attend as often as we’re able. We know that Mama loves music, and even though dementia has robbed her of the ability to sing or express her emotions, her eyes are still able to speak.finishing-well-in-life-cake

About half-way through the party, a young family joins the festivity. They have a small boy and a toddler. During one of the more lively songs, the little tot with curly black hair and a big smile, wiggles out of her Mama’s arms and onto the floor. To everyone’s delight, she toddles out to the center of the room and begins dancing and clapping to the music.

Up until that point, the majority of the crowd was simply enjoying the party. Those who  were able to were singing along and munching their cake and ice cream as well as keeping an eye on the tiny dancer. But then the little girl did an amazing thing.

She toddled over to one of the residents, smiled and reached her hand out to grab her walker. It was as if she put a nickel in the older lady. She suddenly came to life with a grin and began clapping to the music. The little toddler, moved on to the next one, again producing a happy response.

Everyone was watching closely now. It was almost as if there was a collective holding of breath waiting to see where she would go next. Each time she toddled up to someone, that person became more animated.

She eventually made it over to where Mama and I were sitting. She reached her hand out and touched the soft fur on one of Mama’s slipper. No reaction. Mama just looked at her. I was a bit disappointed, as I had hoped for a smile or glimmer of joy from Mama. Oh well, I thought, at least I know she was able to hear the music.

All too soon, the musicians played their last song and it was time for us to leave. When I looked over to Mama to tell her good bye and that I loved her, I noticed something – there were tears running down her cheek. She had noticed the little girl. She had reacted. Tears are the only way Mama has now of communicating with us. What a wonderful birthday celebration.

For that ‘Fidgety’ Feeling

If you are still wondering what to get someone who due to dementia might forget the gift shortly after receiving it, I just may have stumbled across the perfect answer. I just received an email about something called ‘Fidget Quilts. It looks like I’m a bit late to the party, as these don’t seem to be a new idea, but since I hadn’t heard about them before, I thought it might help others as well.

fiinishing-well-in-life-fidget-quilt
Fidget Quilt

Fidget quilts are similar to the activity blankets created for babies to help keep them busy and improve motor skills using fun things like crinkle balls, zippers, buttons as well as other shiny and colorful objects.

Folks  with dementia, or any type of cognitive impairment can become anxious or agitated with a change of location such as a doctor visit, hospital or a move to a care facility. The idea behind the fidget quilts is to provide something close at hand to give the hands something to do and hopefully provide the mind with enough of a distraction to allow it to get a bit of rest.

If you sew, or know a seamstress, it might be fun to design something for your loved-one that might be calming. To help out with ideas, a wide variety of examples can be found on Pintrest. If you don’t sew, there are a lot of places to order them online such as an Alzheimers Support page  as well as Etsy.com and Amazon.com.

fiinishing-well-in-life-twiddle-kitty
Twiddle Kitty

After doing a bit of clicking around the internet, I have discovered a whole world of ‘fiddle’ items available: Twiddle Muffs, Fiddle Cushions, Activity Aprons, Bibs, Twiddle Critters and even nut and bolt boards. All splendid ideas. The only caution I have found regarding this is that (just as with a baby), you want to make sure that everything is securely attached.

Have you found an activity that helps your loved-one with fidgeting hands? Or have an experience with the Fidget Quilt? Please share with us what you have learned.

Upside Down and Backward

During a recent round of physical therapy sessions, I was pleased to learn that one of the exercise sets involved walking backward.

It reminded me of a delightful time back when my Mama, who is currently suffering from the last stages of dementia, could still remember how to walk. Mama loved to go swimming. She loved to be in the water. At the time, we had a membership at a wellness center that included an indoor pool. The majority of my time in the pool was spent walking backward while facing Mama so she would walk frontwards as we ambled back and forth in the water. At the time, one of the attendants mentioned that walking backward was good for the brain – it helps with memory.

Well, that was encouraging. But that was then and life moved on. Mama forgot how to walk and we stopped going to the pool.

So there I was on the treadmill set for reverse and the wonderful memory of Mama and I walking back and forth in the pool came back to me. I remembered the statement someone had said about walking backward being good for memory and wondered if it was really true.

In a previous post, Keep Smelln’ Them Flowers I wrote about the benefits of brain function regarding the olfactory system with the sense of smell.

Taking a step backward

Hanging a calendar upside down forces the brain to change how it processes information.
Hanging a calendar upside down forces the brain to change how it processes information.

I wondered if that could apply to other senses as well. I did a bit of research on Google, and it turns out that the internet has a lot to say on the subject.  I learned that walking backward falls into a category of actions called ‘neurobic exercises’.

According to SheKnows.com Neurobics is the science of brain exercise.

Neurobic exercises, in a nutshell, are: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways. Break routines. For example, turn your calendar upside down. Find a safe place to walk backward.

A website called Physiotherapy-treatment.com  provides several Neurobic exercises to try. Don’t make too many changes at once, attempt things and find out what works for you. Develop a mindset that asks, “How can I do this differently?”

Since neurobic exercises can help make a person’s brain more responsive to mental challenges, they could actually enhance the quality of life for both caregiver and those being cared for.

So, now that I think about it, perhaps Mama should have been the one walking backward in the pool.

In future posts, we will be sharing additional ideas for neurobic exercises. Stay tuned!

Laughter…..

The onset of dementia brought about a surprising change in Mama. She developed a love for slapstick comedy.  My genteel Mama who had always loved Broadway shows and Classical music suddenly enjoyed watching someone get a pie in the face. Of course, the masters of slapstick themselves, the “Three Stooges” zoomed to the top of our movie stack.

There is one particularly entertaining scene where one of them is playing a violin and the bow keeps catching on the toupee of the guy standing next to him.  That particular bit caused Mama to almost roar with laughter. So, of course we played it over and over. And over. It was ALWAYS a surprise to her when the wig came off and she loved it. We loved watching her laugh and be happy.

We also began watching “Laurel and Hardy” as well as “Shirley Temple”. The nice thing about slapstick is that it is a sudden action that doesn’t have to be explained.

When Mama watched her funny movies, it lightened her mood and the rest of the evening usually went smoother. It seems that the saying is true, “If Mama’s happy, everyone is happy”.

The Bible tells us in Proverbs “A joyful heart is good medicine” Laughter may be especially good medicine for dementia patients – and best of all, it doesn’t have any unpleasant side effects.

A recent ‘SMILE Study’   conducted by the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia appears to agree. They used humor therapy on 400 residents at 36 different nursing homes to discover whether humor could improve the lives of people living with dementia. The results showed a 20 per cent reduction in agitated behavior such as aggression, wandering, screaming and repetitive actions.

Even Shakespeare recognized the value in growing older with joy. In “The Merchant of Venice”, he wrote: “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

Some of the well-known Benefits of laughter include:

  • Lower stress hormones
  • Ease of anxiety and fear
  • Easing tension and lightening the mood
  • Strengthened lungs/immune system
  • Increase in social interaction

Find ways to laugh. Be silly, make silly faces or even pretend to laugh-which at times can be enough to prime the laughter pump.

Watch funny movies and read books that are humorous and take your mind off the situation. Mama also loved looking at a directory we happened to have that contained some faces with funny expressions.

Dementia is no laughing matter, but both caregivers and patients will fare much better if we remember to laugh. Find a way, seize a moment, and laugh every single day.

How has laughter benefited you or your loved one with dementia? Share your story about how laughter has made a difference.

The way the ball bounces

Sitting on the floor playing ‘roll-the-ball’ with my little granddaughters, I realized the fun of playing with a ball is an activity that has really stood the test of time.

When my Mama lived with us she was in around the mid to late stage of dementia. One day she and I were in the living room visiting. Mama was sitting on the couch and I was sitting on my exercise ball–I’ve heard some actually use them for exercise, but mine is predominantly used as a chair.  She seemed particularly alert and focused that day, so I decided to see if she would be able to play a little two-square.

I stood up, got her attention and gently bounced the ball her way. She caught it. The look on her face was a mixture of surprise and delight. Since she was in a good place, at that moment, she bounced it back to me. We had a blast bouncing the ball back and forth for about 20 minutes. I could tell she was tiring of the game when she quit returning the ball.

We played that game on a regular basis while Mama lived with us. It was fun to have an activity we could do together. On a real good day, when she was really ‘clicking’ I would even bounce the ball a bit off of center to see if she could adjust –which she usually did quite well.

Even if someone does not have the strength to bounce a ball, a balloon can be just as fun. For a group,  ‘balloon’ volleyball can be delightful—even batting it in the air by using a pool noodle can be enjoyed by many. Anything that bounces or can be bopped or rolled never seems to go out of style, and can play a part in the joy of life no matter what the age or ability.

What activities do you find that your loved one particularly enjoys?

Happy Birthdays

Today, my Mama is 84 and 1/3. It got me thinking about birthdays and how many she has had. The carehome where she resides holds a birthday party each month for all of the residents who have had a birthday in that month.

Everyone loves it. The festivity always includes music, cake, party hats and of course singing “Happy Birthday”. Only a handful of folks in the room know what day of the week it is, let alone when it’s their birthday. That however, does not stop anyone from having a wonderful time.

I realized, that the elements that go along with a birthday celebration have got to be one of the most repeated, and therefore ingrained aspects of our culture.

Many studies as well as our own experiences have shown that heart songs (such as “Happy Birthday”) live in a place other than the part of our brain we use for general memories. How else could it be explained that my Mama, who hasn’t recognized me for years, can’t remember anything about her life or even the previous three minutes could still sing songs with me from her younger life. Even when she was unable to speak, there were days I could pull one of her ‘heart songs’ out of her – at those times we would live in the moment.

The songs we sung were the ones we knew from her childhood and teenage years. If any qualifies for a life or heart song, “Happy Birthday” would certainly make the list.

I have decided not to wait for Mama’s next birthday to sing to her. Since she is in the final stages of dementia, the Happy Birthday song alone will have to do for her.

But may I suggest that if there is any possibility of your loved one wearing a party hat, eating birthday cake (even if it’s angel food), and blowing out a candle accompanied with a hearty round of “Happy Birthday to you…..”. Give it a try.

Why wait? Have a party as often as you’d like—your loved one won’t realize the repetition, and really, you never know how many birthdays are left.