Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Carepartner Wednesdays--The Care Partner's Alphabet--M

M is for memory. And memories.

Alzheimer's and dementia is all about memory. Lack of memory, how to stimulate memory, retrieve lost memories and work with the memory that is left. In the context of the disease, memory (and the lack of it) is the enemy. There are huge amounts of fear associated with memory loss, especially on the part of the care partner. It can feel like a wagon rolling down a hill that we can't catch, no matter how hard we run. We have no control. It keeps getting worse.

Memory is amazing, and helps us perform all kinds of tasks in a day. Imagine forgetting how to brush your teeth, feed yourself or the names of all the flowers in your garden. Memory is our friend--until it isn't.

As important as memory is, sometimes we make it into a god.

This scenario makes me cringe. I see variations of it too often.

The care partner comes in to visit. Perhaps it's been a few weeks, or the loved one is having a bad day. (Seemingly small events like a urinary tract infection, a cold or a bad night's sleep can cause memory to flee and the visitor to be met with a glazed look.) The conversation goes something like this:

"Hi, remember me? Do you know my name? Sure you do--think. What did you have for lunch? Well what did you do today?"

The visitor gets more panicky as question after question goes unanswered. The loved one may withdraw or become defensive and angry when faced with this barrage of questions. The visitor feels dismay at the lack of response.

Here's a better way to handle it:

"Hi, George, it's Charlie. We used to be next-door neighbours. It's so good to see you! I remember when we put up that fence together. What a project that was! Hey, I saw they had spaghetti on the menu for lunch. You always loved spaghetti, did you have that today? I bet it wasn't as good as Gladys use to make. Mmmm--my mouth is watering just thinking about it."

Notice, in the second conversation, memories were in the form of stories. The person could participate  ("Oh yes, you were always hitting your thumb when we made that fence.") or not, but no one is requiring them to remember. Even if they don't quite remember Charlie or the fence, they probably will remember Gladys' spaghetti, and the whole conversation invites smiles and commeradery without forcing participation.

Do you have photo albums? They are an excellent way to bring fun into the visit and may spark some memories.  However, drop "do you remember?" from your conversation. Instead say, "I remember when..." They may remember, also. or it might just be a fun story to share.

An important point to aways remember:

A person who can't remember is still a person.

Don't panic if there isn't a lot of interaction. Don't be hurt if they don't remember your name, or get the relationship wrong. (I'm not your mother, I'm your daughter!") Don't despair if they say you never visit, even if you were there this morning. What matters is that you visit and enjoy each other's company. You are not there to evaluate how much they have deteriorated since your last visit. You are there to celebrate them, enjoy them and spend time together.

You are there to make memories.

Your loved one may not remember that you visited after you leave.

But you will.

photo letter M-

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