Image courtesy Salvatore Vuono @ http://www.freedigitalphotos.comI would like to share a blog entry, written by a woman whose work I haven’t encountered before, but which struck me as very profound, on this beautiful Sunday morning.  It’s titled “About Remembering,” and can be found here.   One of the things that I got from her post is that we cannot regret what has gone before, in our lives.  We may have memories of things that we wished hadn’t happened.  We may have experienced things that we wish we had responded to differently.  But, instead of dwelling on what could have been, we need to think about how those experiences have shaped us into the persons we have become.  Don’t mourn what could have been, but celebrate what is.

This made me think about how we treat those we encounter who have dementia (or any other debilitating illness for that matter).  So often I hear things like, “Oh, it’s so sad.  Mrs. Jones used to play the piano so beautifully.  Now she just sits in her room and doesn’t do anything but watch TV.”  Well, I’ve decided that what we need to do, instead, is to celebrate who Mrs. Jones is now, and pay homage to the person she once was.

How about this?  Instead of putting aside Mrs. Jones’ music altogether, let’s use it to make her life more meaningful.  So she can’t play as beautifully as she once did.  It may well be that if you put her before a piano, she would happily strike the keys in some fashion resembling music, with a broad smile on her face.  Who cares what it sounds like?  (Now, we might not say the same thing after an hour of such cacophony, but a few minutes of it won’t hurt us.)  Or, perhaps someone else could visit the facility and give a concert, with Mrs. Jones sitting on the front row.  What about tuning the radio to Mozart, rather than the staff’s favorite country music station?  A memory book would certainly be in order here, with pictures of Mrs. Jones playing the piano at church, or teaching her students.  It could include some beloved sheet music, and perhaps ticket stubs from the time she and her husband traveled to hear a famous pianist.

Those who have been reading my posts for a while know that I am a big proponent of the Allen Cognitive model, which looks at what a person’s remaining abilities, rather than at what he/she can no longer do.  Often, just acknowledging a person AS a person, by making use of her past skills and interests, we find ourselves surprised at just what that person is able to accomplish.  Going back to the woman in my previous example, let’s say that Mrs. Jones has difficulty dressing herself, but becomes agitated when the staff tries to help her.  What would happen if the aide would get Mrs. Jones to sing a song with her as she is attempting to help her dress?  Or what if the aide told her that she could go play the piano after she got dressed.

Let’s go back to the idea of a memory book.  In the past, I haven’t been a big fan, because I’ve seen too many times when I’ve spent literally hours collecting photos and organizing them into a lovely book, only to have it sit on the shelf unopened.  But I do know that, if the resident’s family and staff all buy into the project, and use it with the resident, it can be quite beneficial.  And, so often it’s not only the resident who recalls things about her past that she may have forgotten.  Many times her family will learn things about Mom that perhaps they didn’t know before, or may have forgotten themselves.  And staff members learn valuable information about the person they are charged with caring for.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if Mrs. Jones no longer was known as that lady in Room 13B, who won’t participate in activities, and who screams when the aide tries to get her dressed in the morning.  Instead, the staff thinks of her as the Piano Lady, who loves to sing and listen to music, and has such a happy smile on her face as she listens to the music in the dining room.  And her daughter can find a renewed sense of pride in the number of pupils her mother taught to share her love of music, while a grandson finds a new respect for the woman he used to be afraid of.

Just a thought, but what if?

  1. September 17, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    My father didn’t have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, after a long fight with cancer and maintaining his independence to age 93, he had to have full time care. Up until that time, I’m convinced one of the best things we did for Dad was make it possible for him to have his old cutting horse, Smoke, in the empty lot next door to him and we purchased another house on the opposite of him so he’d have a rental to manage. Dad was all about doing things and having a purpose. When he couldn’t do either, he died. I’m convinced if I’d gone along with my brothers and put Dad in assistanted living in his early eighties – he’d have died of heart break within a month or two.

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