Category Archives: Memory

More on: Neurobic exercises

In a previous post, ”Upside Down and Backwards”, I wrote about the benefits of Neurobic on brain function.

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. Use your five physical senses as well as your emotional sense in unexpected ways to help you to shake up your everyday routines

A website called Physiotherapy-treatment.com  provides several Neurobic exercises to try. You don’t need to 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 care-giver and those being cared for.

According to “Keep Your Brain Alive” by Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D.,
there are conditions that make an exercise Neurobic.

It should do one or more of the following:

  1. Involve one or more of your senses in a novel context. By blunting the sense you normally use, force yourself to rely on other senses to do an ordinary task. For instance: Get dressed for work with your eyes closed. Eat a meal with your family in silence. Or combine two or more senses in unexpected ways: Listen to a specific piece of music while smelling a particular aroma.

  2. Engage your attention. To stand out from the background of everyday events and make your brain go into alert mode, an activity should be unusual, fun.

Begin with your morning routine:

They suggest such activities as, changing the usual smell you wake up to in the morning. Instead of coffee or tea, using a different smell or freshly baked bread will activate new neural pathways and change your usual morning olfactory association. Also try vanilla, citrus, peppermint, or rosemary. Keep an extract of your favorite aroma in an airtight container on your bedside table for a week and release it when you first awaken, and then again as you bathe and dress. By consistently linking a new odor with your morning routine, you are activating new neural pathways.

  1. Shower with your eyes closed. Locate the taps and adjust the temperature and flow using just your tactile senses. (Make sure your balance is good before you try this and use common sense to avoid burning or injury.) In the shower locate all necessary props by feel, then wash, shave, and so on, with your eyes shut. Your hands will probably notice varied textures of your own body you aren’t aware of when you are “looking.”

Physioherapy-treatment.com also offers some of the following suggestions:

  1. Use your non-dominant hand to eat food, brush hair or write. Also try brushing your teeth (don’t forget to open the tube and apply toothpaste in reverse, too).
  2. To use the side of your brain you don’t normally use close your eyes to wash, dress, open the front door, find your keys. This will help you strengthen your sense of touch.
  3. Getting dressed with the eyes closed.

These are only a few. Give them a try. I’ll keep a look-out for more and post them periodically.

Benefit from it, you will. 😉

“I’ll be me”

“I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road.
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload.
I hear you singin’ in the wire,
I can hear you through the whine, and the Wichita lineman is still on the line”

If you began singing along while reading those words, then perhaps you were also one of the Glen Campbell fans back in 1968 when this song was “singin’ in the wire” and right into the hearts and lives of both country and pop music fans.

I owned several of his albums when I was little. At the time, I didn’t know what type of music it was, but just knew I loved every song Glen Campbell sang.

My husband and I just watched a documentary called “Glen Campbell: I’ll be me” that is both inspiring and encouraging. It was about his Farwell Tour that the family embarked on after he received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The tour was originally scheduled to be a three-to-five-week goodbye tour, but ended up completing 151 concerts over a year and a half.

The documentary was filmed by Hollywood producer and Campbell’s long-time friend, James Keach, who also produced the award-winning Walk the Line, about Johnny and June Cash.

“Glen and his family are so in the moment, so supportive of one another and have really dedicated their life to changing the face of Alzheimer’s in America,” Keach says. “I think Glen’s legacy won’t just be music. It will be what he’s done with this journey with Alzheimer’s.”

The tour included three of his children in the back-up band. When discussing the tour and how Glen was able to accomplish it, his son, Cal Campbell sais “Maybe in his current state of haziness when he connects to something that he’s been doing for so long or brings him so much joy, I think he becomes himself again.”

Their attitude is to take each day as it comes, make the most of everyday, enjoy life and try to have fun. His son, Shannon Campbell added, “It’s not all bad, really. We get to celebrate his life while he’s still around.”

That is good advise whether you’re loved one is famous, rich and talented, or a simple soul. Try to do the activities that bring the most joy and celebrate life each day.

Kim, his wife of over 30 years, says, “We prepare for tomorrow, but try not to worry about tomorrow or else we can’t enjoy today.”

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he responded, “Just for what I am. I’m Glenn Campbell and I believe in God, I believe in other people. Treat others like the way you want to be treated and help others who are less fortunate.”

The documentary ends with his song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, which are both irony and a sad commentary considering the challenges he faces in life.

Good Bye, Glen, we’re going to miss you.

Are you a Glen Campbell fan? What is your favorite song?



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips 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 

What a doll

I couldn’t believe my eyes. While I was at the care-home where my Mama lives, I noticed one of the residents in the hallway holding a tiny baby. What were they thinking? I quickly looked around for the baby’s mother. No one seemed to be paying any attention to her. Taking a closer look at the baby, I understood why –it was a doll! It was so lifelike, and the resident holding it looked so happy.

What a wonderful idea! Even if dementia has stolen and ripped away most of who your loved one was in their younger days, the maternal and paternal instinct is so deeply embedded into us as parents that the simple act of holding a (fake, weighted) doll can awaken the natural feelings that reside inside.

I did a bit of research to see if there had been any studies regarding the use of dolls for memory stimulation. Reading through the studies I could find, I learned that the dolls did, indeed seem to wake up the maternal or paternal instinct within many dementia patients. It did appear to have a greater effect on those in earlier stages of the disease.

One study in particular, conducted in 2007,  suggested doll therapy is a promising and effective approach to use in the care of older adults with dementia.

Many have found doll therapy to be a good way to engage loved ones while giving them a purposeful and rewarding activity. The dolls also seemed to have a calming effect and often created a distraction for them from upsetting events. Loved ones usually spent time rocking their baby dolls – which also helped them fall asleep. Another finding was that they often enjoyed singing to their doll, something family caregivers can join in or simply encourage their loved ones to sing on a regular basis.

The one major negative was that some family members or caregivers thought that giving a doll to someone with dementia was a demeaning and offensive practice.

The studies also agreed on some fundamental practices for the use of dolls:

  •  Do not call the doll a doll, refer to it as baby, or by name if your loved one has given it a name.
  • Provide a bassinet or small crib for the doll.
  • Do not purchase a who’s eyes open and close, or a doll that cries out loud, or as that could be upsetting.
  • Do not force the doll on your loved on. Let them discover, approach and hold the doll on their own time.
  • Be sure to communicate the purpose of the doll for any one else who may be providing care for your loved one.
  • Never remove the doll without permission of the person with dementia. When removing the doll, healthcare professionals and family members should hold the doll as if it were a living baby and explain where they are taking it, for example, if the doll is dirty, it is going to get a bath.

I believe that the bottom line is this is, try it, don’t force it and see what happens.

There is a Postize post on my Facebook group: Finishing Well for Caregivers that has some great photos folks with their dolls. Be sure to check it out as well.

What do you think about doll therapy? Have you found it to be an effective way to treat anxiety and behavioral issues in seniors with dementia, or do you believe that it is demeaning and an offensive practice?

What if you don’t sing?

There is a growing amount of evidence that music is able to revive hidden memories hidden deep inside your loved one’s brain.  But, suppose neither you nor your loved one was ever really a ‘music person’? Is it still possible to activate those missing memories?  I was having this very conversation with a friend of mine whose father had dementia.

When I mentioned the benefit of singing, his face fell and he said sadly, “I don’t ever remember my father singing. Music wasn’t part of our families’ culture.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I responded

Suddenly his face brightened, “But there is one thing –when my Dad was young, he won an ice cream eating contest. While I was growing up, our family ate a lot of ice cream. It was a bid deal for us to go to the ice cream parlor and hear my Dad tell us about the time he won that contest.”

“That’s fabulous,” I said.

“Ice cream may be his version of singing,” he continues, “The first thing he asks me when I visit him at the care home, is will I take him home. It was breaking my heart until one day I had an idea. I’d say ‘sure, let’s go get in the car.’ I drove down to the ice cream parlor and we would sit and eat ice cream and talk about the time he had won the trophy for eating ice cream. After we were finished, we would get back in the car and I would drive him back to the care home. When I pulled up into the driveway of the care home, he always smiles and says, ‘It’s good to be home.’”

So, it turns out that not only is singing a wonderful trigger for awakening memories that are hard to rouse, but other activities that hold a significance to your loved one can also awaken dormant memories.

For example, nature trips of all types can be fun. Especially places that have certain smells associated with them. If your loved one was raised on a farm, an excursion to a ranch to watch horses or cows might trigger pleasant memories. If not a farm, then perhaps a visit to a petting zoo for a bit of up-close time around animals could provide stimulation of both touch and smell.  Or, venture out downtown to a park bench to feed pigeons. If there is a park that includes a duck pond, perhaps feeding ducks will invoke hidden memories.

Keep in mind, though, trips can be tiring and over-stimulation can thwart the benefits of the outing, so keeping it short and go at times when there is less likely to be crowded.

What other ideas can you think of? What has worked for you?

Who are all these people?

finishing-well-in-life-shield-Red Bluff High School's Spartan shield.
Red Bluff High School’s Spartan shield.

Have you ever wondered what it felt like to experience dementia? Reunions are the perfect events for just that type of experience.

Try gathering together with a large group of folks you are supposed to know because you all graduated from the same school 40 years earlier. I must confess that I spent a great deal of time reading name tags—trying to fit the name with the face. There were a few people that I didn’t remember even after reading the name tag. Our school wasn’t that large, but perhaps we never shared any of the same classes.

Scanning the various faces in the room, I realized that there were a few whose name tags I didn’t need to read—they had not changed since high school. Apparently, no one had bothered to mention it to those particular folks that at some point they were supposed to age.

Remembering a previous reunion of sorts

The joy I felt at recognizing a familiar face reminded me of something that occurred at my Daddy’s memorial service several years ago.  At that point, my Mama was well into the first stages of dementia and her memory was quite poor.  My husband, sister and I were standing by my Mama while friends and family walked past offering their condolences. Suddenly Mama’s face brightened up with a big smile as she said, “Oh, there’s a familiar face!” The rest of us all looked at each other in amazement. What a relief she must have felt at that moment to actually recognize someone.

This was only the second reunion I’d attended in 40 years since I graduated.  I was glad I came to this one. Visiting and reconnecting with former classmates was a good experience.  Those who attended were each champions in their own way. Among our classmates, some had experienced the thrill of victory and some the agony of defeat.

I read the list of those who had already passed on and silently grieved for each life cut short. I was glad for those I have kept in touch with over the years and was even surprised to learn that there were actually a few who still lived in the area that I had not seen since high school.

Facebook has offered a wonderful way to do a better job of staying connected going forward. I will remember this event fondly and look forward to number 50.

finishing-well-in-life-spartan

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!

Keep Smell’n Them Flowers

Usually when someone says, “Stop and smell the roses”, it means that person wants you to slow down, relax, unwind. Well, as a caregiver, you may find yourself agreeing with the idea and wishing you could take a moment here and there to enjoy a quick sniff.

finishing_well-in-life-sunflower-from-my-garden
A beautiful sunflower from my garden

But no, wait! There are other reasons you may want to indulge in a whiff or two.

Recent studies suggest that there is an entirely different reason to pause and take pleasure in the aroma of not only flowers, but coffee perking, popcorn popping, and freshly baked bread.

Pausing to breathe in the lovely fragrance of a favorite flower does more than providing a person with a moment of pleasure. The actual process of smelling helps stimulate the neural pathways in our brain to keep them clear or even encourage new branches.

Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Treatment & Research Foundation in Chicago says, “Someone who is colorblind can look at red and green all day but never see it. But with a smell, you can actually cause nerve connections to act and smell what perhaps you couldn’t before.”

Ron Winnegrad, director of International Flavors Fragrances Inc.’s New York perfumery school, teaches aspiring perfumers the basics of perfume skills. His first rule of thumb: Be scent-conscious in your day-to-day life. “If you’re drinking a cup of coffee or tea, actually smell it before you drink it, and when eating food, smell it first,” he says. “If you do this on a regular basis, you will increase your sense of smell.”

Of all the senses, the sense of smell is the most closely tied to memories – especially childhood memories. After nearly a half-century, I occasionally catch a whiff of something that takes me back to summer mornings when I was a child in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where we spent our summers.

One of the saddest aspects of my Mama’s dementia was the realization that she had lost her sense of smell. Her favorite flower was wisteria. We had a beautiful vine full of lovely lavender flowers growing near our front porch. I tried to encourage Mama to try smelling them, but she wasn’t able to understand what to do when I put a flower up near her nose.

If your loved one has any sense of smell, aromatherapy is worth a try. Even if it does nothing to reverse or delay cognitive impairment, it has been shown to reduce or ease some of the disturbing symptoms of dementia.

Alistair Burns, professor of old age psychiatry at the University of Manchester in the U.K. says, “A whiff of soothing lavender or exposure to bright light may be enough to relieve some of the most disturbing symptoms of dementia.

The British researcher  says certain alternative therapies may be effective ways to counter the effects of mental decline without the negative side effects of some medications.finishing-well-in-life-violet

So, what are you waiting for? Find a flower, bring to your nose. Sniff. Repeat.

Name that NOUN

Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation with someone and blanked on a person’s name or the name of a place or thing? Any type of noun? It seems to be a common occurrence among older adults.

For example, I recently heard a story about a lady who had just received an annual delivery of salmon filets. She was relieved to see that each fish was intact, as the prior year’s shipment had some fillets with chunks cut out due to sea lions attacking and biting the salmon in the nets. While telling a friend how happy she was to get the fish in such good condition this year, her friend asked what had happened to them the year before. As she began to reply, she blanked on the word ‘sea lions’. So instead she said, “They were bitten by ground squirrels.finishing-well-in-life-squirrel1

I can relate.

The significant difference between normal lapses – such as forgetting someone’s name and worrisome memory loss is determined by the impact it has on your ability to function—your ability to do the things you want to do.

Normal age-related forgetfulness, including nouns

According to helpguide.org, the following types of memory lapses are normal among older adults and generally are not considered warning signs of dementia:

  • Occasionally forgetting where you left things you use regularly, such as glasses or keys.
  • Forgetting names of acquaintances or blocking one memory with a similar one, such as calling a grandson by your son’s name.
  • Occasionally forgetting an appointment.
  • Having trouble remembering what you’ve just read, or the details of a conversation.
  • Walking into a room and forgetting why you entered.
  • Becoming easily distracted.
  • Not quite being able to retrieve the information you have “on the tip of your tongue.”

On a good note, it turns out that our brains seem to be capable of producing new cells at any age, so just as physical exercise helps strengthen muscles, there are a variety of ways to strengthen our brains to improve cognitive skills as well as prevent memory loss.

My sister and I have developed our own test for determining whether or not a lapse indicates normal forgetfulness, or impending dementia. (Although we don’t remember ever forgetting anything.) It’s okay to forget where your keys are, it’s not okay to forget what your keys do.”

Sfinishing-well-in-life-squirrel2o remember, although frustrating, most age-related memory lapses are not the same as dementia. I’ve decided that the next time I can’t remember what to call a particular noun, I believe will call it a ground squirrel’.