Wednesday, November 30th, 2011
by Ellen Woodward Potts
Co-author, A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver
People with dementia are regularly “thrown away” by our society, which values a person by what they do, instead of who they are or even whose they are. These people, who often have been loving parents, hardworking providers, and community leaders, can no longer serve in the roles they’ve known, sometimes for their entire adult lives. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be productive members of society. It just takes a little more creativity.
When someone first begins to show signs of dementia, he usually knows something is wrong. He may have a real sense of the disease progressing, and be frightened and depressed by the process. Depression is a strange thing. In a person who has no dementia, it can cause many of the same symptoms as dementia does. It takes a skilled physician to be able to tell the difference. In those who already have dementia, depression can make dementia worse and make the person progress more quickly.
It’s a well-known fact that people who view themselves as productive members of the family or of society are generally happier than those who don’t. In people with dementia who can’t do the things they’ve always done to help others, this particular source of self-worth is greatly diminished or goes away entirely. As a caregiver, one of the best things you can do is to help your loved one feel valued and productive.
Lester Potts, my father-in-law who could fix just about anything around the house, couldn’t hammer a nail or change a light bulb after he got Alzheimer’s disease. Worse yet, he knew he should be able to do these things and couldn’t. This man who always loved a good joke stopped smiling. The people at Caring Days Adult Day Care Center helped him regain his sense of self-worth in many ways. First, there was the art. Lester had a real talent for watercolor painting which never would have been discovered if not for Alzheimer’s disease. Next, there were the many service projects performed by the clients at Caring Days. They assembled Christmas baskets for the less fortunate and helped put together boxed lunches for disaster victims. They make wreaths, scarves, blankets and other crafts to sell to support the operating costs center. All these activities and many others help their clients contribute to society.
To help your loved one feel valued at home, ask him or her to help you with daily tasks — folding clothes, washing dishes, making the beds, etc. One woman with dementia loved to fold clothes, so her daughter always kept a basket of old clothes for her mother to fold. It was a great way to keep her mother occupied and to make her feel needed at the same time. When the clothes were folded, the mother received much praise for her good work. Remember, the goal is not perfectly folded clothes or a bedspread without any wrinkles. The goal is to make the person feel valued, like they have contributed to the family or the community. At the same time, these activities keep your loved one’s mind engaged. A happy person with dementia is easier to care for and has a better quality of life.