A Puzzlement, Indeed
Play is serious work. We work hard to make sure our kids have the right play toys to help them learn skills that match their age and abilities. These include hand-eye coordination games such as the one that buzzes when you take out the funny bone incorrectly. (I could never master that part of the Operation game.)
Like my dad often said, “Always use the right tools for the right jobs.” That is why I find it a real puzzlement when organizations that would never scrimp on the latest medication management systems or non- slip flooring or even the best nutritional food for their senior clients have activity rooms that are filled with toy store cast-offs. So often, you will see boxes of games that their residents haven’t seen in 50 years, if ever (Candyland, Life, Monopoly sets with missing game pieces and even coloring books). And we actually expect our loved ones to enjoy and be stimulated by these offerings.
I know many wonderful and dedicated activity directors who will reach into their own pockets to purchase memory games and puzzles to help keep their residents’ minds active. They do so much with so little so very often – because of how much they care about their residents.
And now there are studies that bear out these activity directors’ efforts to make sure their residents receive the best possible and most appropriate cognitive tools. The Cochrane Library Study titled Cognitive Stimulation to Improve Cognitive Functioning in People with Dementia evaluated the “effectiveness and impact of cognitive stimulation interventions aimed at improving cognition for people with dementia.”
The review included 15 trials with a total of 718 participants in the mild to moderate stages of dementia. Cognitive stimulation activities included: word games, puzzles, music, and practical activities such as baking or indoor gardening.
Among the findings:
A clear, consistent benefit on cognitive function was associated with cognitive stimulation.
There was consistent evidence from multiple trials that cognitive stimulation programs benefit cognition in people with mild to moderate dementia over and above any medication effects.
Overall, participants who received cognitive stimulation also reported improved quality of life and they were able to communicate and interact better than previously.
So you don’t have to simply take my word for it.
A few years ago, I visited a beautiful adult day center in Texas. Their senior clients were sitting in the activity room after lunch. Noticing a trumpet on the bookshelf, I asked if anyone could play it. A gentleman stood and said he could and he would love to play. A lady sat at the upright piano and another lady stood to sing. The big band era music that filled the room was joyful and actually quite good. After our serenade, the center director took me aside and said with tears in her eyes, “They have never done that before.” Now they have music Wednesdays, and I hear it is a swingin’ time.
Today’s Caregiver magazine
I met recently with Dr. Ted Epperly, past President and past Chairman of the Board of the American Academy of Family Physicians. We discussed the different beneficial applications for the DignifieDesigns puzzles, for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementia’s, as well as use by Occupational Therapists. and as a Colonel (ret.) in the US Army Dr. Epperly was enthusiastic about our ability to create custom puzzles for veterans.
The connection between resident and family or care giver was what excited him the most. To be able to interact in a meaningful way with those with dementia is truly an improvement in their quality of life. His program is currently conducting a study of our puzzles. Below is his endorsement of DignifieDesigns puzzles.
“I am excited to write this strong letter of endorsement for your memory-stimulating puzzles that can be used with patients with dementia and other debilitating mental and physical conditions. As a family physician for 30 years, I see the immediate applicability of these fantastic puzzles to promote quality interaction time between family members, occupational therapists and others engaged wit the patient. These wonderful conversation starters act to connect long-term memory to a quality, enjoyable interaction time with the person.
I have often found that any activity that takes the person back to fond memories of the past and thus starts an engaging conversation around those issues to be of high quality to both the patient and the person engaged with the patient around this activity. Your puzzles are simple and straight forward, and connect memory and activity together at one time. This combination unlocks tremendous memories that are pleasant to hear and pleasant for the patient to tell. Combining these with pictures from the patient from the past unlocks a variable treasure-trove of deep memory that is meaningful to both the listener and the patient telling the story.
I find that these puzzles are wonderful metaphors of integration around placing the pieces of a life together to be recounted to others. This applicability is broad and not only goes beyond dementia and Alzheimer’s dementia, but also to those that have suffered traumatic brain injury and other debilitating conditions in which occupational therapy and the simple act of building something together with someone unleashes the combination of physical action along with mental memory.
Building these puzzles together is one of the most person-centered activities I can think of that respects who the person is and values the person who has lived the life experiences and now has a disease. Family members report having some of the most meaningful visits they can remember as the puzzles provide a jumping off point for conversation, connection and deeper understanding.
In summary, I highly endorse these wonderful memory-stimulating puzzles made by DignifieDesigns. this is a high quality activity that I recommend for any family with a loved one who suffers from any typed of dementia or debilitating disease in which a quality interaction can be guaranteed by working together to build a memory puzzle from ones past. I’m happy to speak further on these puzzles by contacting me at the phone number or email address below.”
Ted Epperly, MD
Program Director and CEO, Family Medicine Residency of Idaho
Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle Washington
Past President and Past Chairman of the Board, American Academy of Family Physicians
Our Social Media Manager, Trista Ballou, has made another great video about our puzzles!
Another great YouTube video by our Social Media Manager, Trista Ballou
Thanks to my daughter, Trista, we have a YouTube video posted. Check it out
So great to see the ladies playing with our puzzles! We are working hard to get our puzzles into people’s hands. Please like, share and re-post the video.
NOTE: Due to a technical difficulty with the sound portion of our video, I am posting this here.
IHCA-ICAL Winter Workshop
DignifieDesigns sponsors luncheon for Activity Directors from around the state of Idaho.
Good afternoon, I’m Gini Ballou with DignifieDesigns from Hailey. I am so honored to sponsor your lunch today, honoring you for the care you provide. It’s fitting for our company to be presenting to you today, since we were created to meet your need for better tools to use with your residents.
DignifieDesigns makes simple, memory-stimulating puzzles for those with early to mid-stage dementias—Alzheimer’s, stroke recovery, TBI’s & other cognitive diseases. Our goal was to combine the proper skill level with images appropriate for adults, 45 to 95.
I’m sure many of you are aware of the benefits of working jigsaw puzzles and you probably have them on hand. You have most likely seen the UCLA study and many others that have shown that successfully placing just one puzzle piece releases Dopamine in the brain and causes right and left lateral brain connections, causing a stimulation in memory and just a sense of feeling good —they are tried and true with good reason. What’s different about DignifieDesigns puzzles is that we marry pictures of things they still remember with the skill their condition requires.
Dr. John Gies of the Oak Creek Care & Rehabilitative Centers noted after using our puzzles that our images “reach the long-term memories that remain intact through much of the continuum of their disease.” As you know, Alzheimer’s and many dementias are regressive diseases, so the longer the resident has it, the further back, the closer to childhood their memories are focused. Our puzzle themes are from those times.
A little background on our company—my mother had Alzheimer’s and lived with my family for several years, until she was deemed unsafe In a home environment and we were so fortunate to find the perfect place for her, and us, down in Kimberly. I spent a good deal of time there; I was raised visiting nursing homes—my father was part of a singing group that performed all over and I would go with him, sitting with the ladies. I’ve always had an appreciation for the aged and enjoy being around them. With my youngest son competing in sports throughout the area at the time, I was able to stop in quite often. And I noticed some things.
And let me first say that I believe you are all angels here on earth, doing an incredible job for your residents and as a family member, I’d like to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the work you do. What I saw was that there were really no products made for my mother and others like her; you are forced to use things with the right skill, which means things made for young children in most cases. And my mother didn’t mind a bit; she was perfectly happy working the Baby Mickey & My Little Pony puzzles. It was me that it bothered; it made me uncomfortable and a little angry—my mom had been a dynamic, intelligent, force-to-be-reckoned-with kind of woman and here she was, content with a toddler toy. It made me sad.
I also noticed that a lot of people, probably most, are uncomfortable visiting—they’d pretty much pop in, kiss a cheek, note the current weather and get out. Children would come in, looking excited, and quickly were peeking from behind Dad’s leg. And I guess it could be unsettling—you are expecting to meet someone old, your parents’ parent, and they play with toys too young for you, since you’re a big girl.
So after my mom passed away, I looked to create a puzzle that had both the skill needed and images that recalled their earlier lives. And that’s what we did—our themed boards have four puzzles, each with four large pieces. For early stages, mix all the puzzles for a greater challenge and in later stages the pictures alone can be stimulating and beneficial. We are made from post-consumer materials, recycled grocery bags, actually, our materials come from west Boise, the puzzles are manufactured in Bellevue and shipped from Hailey and the puzzles and trays are dishwasher safe.
We also create custom puzzles from photographs and offer discounts based on percentage of participation—we recognize and appreciate that especially here in Idaho, many of you may only have 8 to 12 residents and others may have 30 to 50. We have a company mission of enhancing the quality of life for our end-users and their caregivers and therefore want to encourage greater use, not penalize you for being small; so if you’re planning a visiting day event, get families to submit 4 pictures of their loved one and we can create puzzles for them all.
But there is something interesting and wonderful that we have found in focus groups and from countless customers’ feedback and that’s this—connect the pieces, connect the lives is not just our tag line; it’s what’s happening when folks use our puzzles. There’s a positive, increased animation in the residents; they respond to the pictures. The puzzles unlock memories and spark conversations.
I held a test group with the cooperation and generosity of Caryn Long at Blaine Manor, thank you again, Caryn. One woman hadn’t spoken in some months, as they sometimes do, and she couldn’t work the puzzles, but could hold onto them and would rub the pictures. I asked her if she used to dress like the pictures and she said, “Oh yes, we always wore gloves.” Another, I believe legally blind, would feel the chunky shapes and work the puzzle. The graphics are bright enough that she could tell if she had it right and fix it if it wasn’t.
Another was unable to work the pieces but would put the completed puzzles into the recessed tray and each time it slid into place with a little click, she would smile and say, “Oh!”—getting that Dopamine release from that one successful placement. With her, I noticed that she kept holding on to the big car from our Classic Cars board and knowing her husband, I asked her if he drove a big car. She tells me, “Whether he wants to or not, he’s stuck with it now!” True enough, I guess and we finished our time together.
A few days later I ran into her husband in the post office and told him I’d had his wife in a test group with our puzzles and that she’d noted the car was like his. He turned and kind of glared at me and said, “She did not. She did not know me.” I retold him our conversation, of me asking if he drove a big car and her saying, “Whether he wants to or not, he’s stuck with it now,” and he burst out a chuckle, teared up a bit and said, “That is her.” Within the month she passed away and I can’t tell you how much it touches my heart that the simple use of our puzzles allowed me to let this man know that somewhere inside her, his wife still knew him.
Family members report enjoying their visits more; one customer said that with our puzzles she had the nicest visit she could remember—the pictures sparked her own memories of times with her mother and the pieces felt good in her hands, like a worry stone. She had purchased several boards, including our custom sample board and said she found it to be the most inspiring; her mom’s roommate has Alzheimer’s and she used the puzzles of my mom & in-laws to ask questions—did she have a favorite doll or animal? Did she play an instrument? How many children did she have?
Stroke recovery and TBI patients don’t have the additional frustration of not being able to complete a baby puzzle; our designs are created for adults.
We offer quantity discounts—if you buy the set, we give you one free; we have show specials, we’ve discounted our regular price of $19.95 to include the tax at $20 out the door and orders placed at the workshop have free shipping.
We welcome your input on new themes, we’re constantly researching new boards; we’re currently working on a veteran’s puzzle, having worked with the Spirit of ’45 campaign and assisting in getting a Congressional Day of Remembrance passed this past August for the end of WWII and were given the rights to use “The Kiss” photo from Times Square and the “Rosie the Riveter” poster.
We’d also appreciate your help on another item—one of the challenges we’ve had in marketing our products is that there isn’t a category for us, yet. No one has been making anything specifically for your residents. Do we call them, “Alzheimer’s Aids”? But they are for more than just Alzheimer’s…Cognitive Toys? What do you call the items you use? We are doing a drawing for a puzzle, so if you have an idea for what this genre of products should be called, write it on the bottom of your slip or on the back of your business card.
And again, thank you for your dedication to your residents; the way you make them your own family members, keeping them active and moving and engaged. I hope you find that DignifieDesigns puzzles are here to assist you in those goals and look forward to hearing your feedback after using them.
When I first started caring for my mother through her Alzheimer’s I knew that I was taking on a challenge and being a given an opportunity. I would have to find a way to blend her needs into my own family’s existing life and rhythm, coordinating day services for my mom and carpools to baseball practice for my son, while getting to my daughter’s music recitals, oh, and work and time with my husband. Yet I was now able to set the tone and create the relationship we would have for this period of our lives, caring for her as she would have cared for me if she had been able.
If you were fortunate to have had a wonderful parent/child relationship yourself this is your chance to return the favor to your parent. If like me it was less than ideal, it is quite a gift to have the option to change that dynamic, as well as the glimpses into who my mom had been as a teenager, young girl and eventually child. She never lost her personality, her self, in fact in some ways, she was more herself, without the trappings of society graces, like your precocious four-year-old who tells your mother-in-law she has bad breath when she kisses her. Yet even though she didn’t know me or my family, asking once if she “used to be my mother”, she was still Evelyn, and I could see peeks at how she became the young wife, the young mother, my mother, the woman I fought with, moved away from, and came back together with when I had my own children. A kind of spiral of all the life phases, a helix of life stations swirling between us.
Alzheimer’s really is life in reverse, they regress back in skill and focus, losing the ability to perform tasks gradually or in great leaps or regaining lost skills for short periods, but always going to less, eventually, along the path. The trick for me was continually gauging what skill and need level she was at and adjusting down. It is different when your children are coming up, still the dangers are similar–one morning your baby is safe laying on the floor, the next he’s rolling over and is off! Mom was the same, just backwards–today she’s a teenager, a bit obstinate and wanting to stay up later, asking where her “steady’s pin” is, tomorrow she’s a mischievous ten-year-old, sneaking over the fence with another resident at her day service place and hip-bumping the attendant down the street as the poor girl tries to bring them back.
Recognizing what they want to do and providing a safe environment to do so is the key. Use the following tips for achieving a safer setting while giving yourself a breather.
- Check the toddler and infant safety sections at the grocery and discount department stores. Some items work great, others were not as effective for me–the cabinet latches did keep mom from opening (and then emptying) the bathroom cabinets; the door knob covers, meant to keep that door closed, without using a key or latch, didn’t work at all; mom would take them off, open the door and bring me the cover, saying she didn’t know what it was for. Could be that she still had the intelligence to figure out the use of things she could see, but wasn’t curious enough to further investigate something that simply didn’t open, like the cabinet doors. Check for other safety items in this section as needed in your home–use the right strength for your situation; if you have an exterior door that leads to a busy street, you will need a different system than you would in keeping them out of the bathroom or your child’s room.
- Provide a safe area for walking. Those with Alzheimer’s seem to like to walk, many preferring laps others happy pacing back and forth. Our farm had a porch that wrapped around the house as did the driveway and the main level had a loop-type lay-out. Mom would walk for hours. Every time her day center called me to pick her up for being disruptive or sneaking out, I would look at their site–fenced in front with split rails and the yard in a C-shape and I’d think, well, of course she’s sneaking out! She gets to the end of the yard, sees the rest of the path around to connect up and climbs over it, under it or through it! Then once she’s over it, it depends what direction she is now facing as to which way she will start walking–back to the other side of the fence or down the street, she is easily distracted. My advice, if at all possible, make a loop that they can walk. You might be able to mimic one inside your backyard with a circular garden path for example. Or take them to the local school track and walk together. Outside activities are good for them and the old adage of “a tired puppy is a good puppy” works for children and those with Alzheimer’s, too.
- Recognize that their disease creates the perfect storm of toddler curiosity with lack of judgment for consequences and the adult ability to do what they think of. For example, cooking. Mom could reach and mostly remember how to use the stove and was once an exceptional cook. So she mixed fruit salad with chicken Alfredo and then went to heat it, but first maybe we should add crayons and a few Lego’s– one, because they are here on the counter, and two, they are pretty colors. Not so good. And they can move fast–don’t let the normal morning arthritis/ bad hip ailments fool you. The above recipe was discovered after I turned back around from emptying the dishwasher. So if your dad loved working in the garage, look for birdhouse kits with pre-cut pieces instead of letting him use power tools. And have your child do it with him and supervise the activity.
- The skills they have today they will lose tomorrow, so continually update (or downgrade, as the case may be), the activities and items they have access to. Check the youth and toddler sections of the game departments at your local stores–the skill and safety level in these items is the closest match to their needs. Unfortunately, few products are made for the senior with dementia, geared specifically to entertain the adult with safety and skill issues. (DignifieDesigns’ memory stimulating puzzles being a notable exception, of course!) The features in these products are appropriate, so to maintain their respect, look for those with the least childlike graphics.
- Learn to accept the process and better appreciate today. The adjustments necessary for living with someone with Alzheimer’s are very fluid and not always in the same direction and the rules seem to change multiple times a day. The way you handle their question in the morning may not work in the afternoon. They can be exasperating, funny, tiresome, petty, sad, comical, serious, all in an hour! It can be like traveling with an infant–you can make all the plans you like, but if that trip is when their tooth erupts, there is not much you can do about it except adjust. There will be good days and bad days, but if you approach them with a kind, straight-forward demeanor, they will take their cue from you. Just as you would not “ask” a three-year-old if they “want” to eat their dinner, go to bed or get in the car, try not to “ask” your parent, either. Rephrasing questions into statements is an effective tool for those with Alzheimer’s. When you can get past the emotional feeling of treating your parent or spouse as a child, and simply deal with the situation as it is, it really does get easier. Yes, my mother was my “big child” in some ways and I constantly missed having that upper generation of my own to talk to and lean on and be involved in my life. Though I found that if I treated her with respect and consideration, including recognizing what her special needs were due to this disease, it was the most loving relationship we could have.
I was the first to recognize the coming Alzheimer’s in my mother. It started with a chicken dinner. She invited my family over, she and her new husband were having his oldest son and wife to dinner and she wondered if we would like to join them. I asked if I could bring anything, maybe a pasta salad. All week, every time I ran into her or spoke to her on the phone, she again invited us to dinner and I again suggested I bring a pasta salad. On Saturday when we showed up, she was surprised, saying, “Oh, I didn’t know you were coming for dinner…but I’ve had a hankering for pasta salad!”
Her dementia was affecting her work–she would leave the night deposit in the mail slot and put the mail in the bank. On a rare family reunion camping trip I nervously approached the subject, telling her I was noticing some things and wondered what her desires were for her care, if and when she could no longer provide it. She had always said she never wanted to live on machines and she had made a Living Will many years before. This was a woman who took great pride in her intelligence and had accomplished much in her then 61 years. So the idea that I was hinting that she was “losing her mind” did not sit well. She ended up yelling at me across the campfire that she was perfectly fine, I could worry about someone else, she was never going to live with her children, and especially not me. That didn’t go so well.
Her husband starting making plans for them to move to a smaller community some 3 1/2 hours away from the rest of us. He claimed that all of Mom’s problems were stress related–too many kids, (she had seven, he had three) and too many grand kids always coming over and wanting something from her. His theory was if she didn’t have all of us around, she would be fine. So he moved her onto ranch property outside a small, close-knit community, where she knew absolutely no one and had no reason to meet anyone outside of church. She had done needlepoint, knitting, sewing and was quite accomplished. So now she threw herself into quilting.
Of the four daughters here, we all made at least one trek over the mountains to see her. Their new town hosted youth baseball and hockey tournaments, so my family was up there a couple times a year, my sister’s son played ball, too and when her husband had business down our way he would bring Mom along and drop her at my house for a visit. My oldest son would spend a few weeks in the summer with her and go up for long school breaks.
But without the daily reminder of who she was from her family, within a year she knew less and less of current times and people. She would go to the market and forget why she was there and wander through the aisles until she ran into someone that knew her or something sparked her memory and she would return, sometimes with, sometimes without, whatever she had gone out for. Her husband said her usually excellent cooking skills had become “creative” and started taking over the meal preparation.
When we would come to visit, she was always surprised, “Oh, are you here for hockey? What position do you play?” she would ask my daughter, Trista, who was 12 or 13 at the time. And then she would show her all the toys she had brought out for her visit–stuffed animals and dolls. Once when a friend was going to be staying with us I heard Trista tell the friend as we turned onto Mom’s street, “So, my Grandma will say ‘hi’ a lot, don’t worry, it’s okay, she’s just funny like that. Oh, and she’ll probably have dolls and cookies for us.”
Her husband started leaving notes all around the house for her, Lunch at 11:30; Take meat out of freezer; hair appt. Tues. at 1pm. This seemed to work. Until the day she was mad at him and went to her sewing machine and saw the note, “the quilt you are making is for Jeff and Gini”. She called demanding to know if I had one of her quilts. I didn’t want to hurt her and remind her that the quilt she made for me, after the two of us spent over an hour picking out the materials from her stockpile, was given to her step-son, so I simply said no. “Well, okay, then…but that son-of-a-bitch isn’t telling me who to sew for!” and she hung up.
A few months later Mom was due to come over for my sister’s baby shower. We all assumed her husband would be bringing her. But when she was overdue, I called her house and her husband answered, surprised she hadn’t made it yet, but not overly concerned. Twelve hours later, with the help of the State Police in three states and a checker in another sister’s town grocery store, she was located, confused but okay. She was put up in a motel and in the morning, drove herself to my house, without her suitcase.
When she walked in, she was angry, wanting to know why everyone was so upset with her. We were scared, we didn’t know where she was, I told her. “But I was fine.” she said. When asked where she was, “around” was all she could come up with. She kept demanding to know why everyone was bothered about it. I asked if she really wanted to know and she whispered yes.
It was time for The Talk.
After a deep breath and a quick prayer, I told her. She wasn’t as sharp all the time as she used to be, but it was okay. She might forget why we are visiting or say hello each time she sees us, the kids understand and they don’t mind, it’s okay, she just needs a little help.
She became very still and quiet and then looked up and asked if everyone knew but her. I reassured her that folks weren’t talking about her as some crazy woman, people understood what she was going through. I suggested she visit over coffee with her husband in the morning and go over the day, but write her own notes; then when she sees them they are reminders, not notes in his handwriting, telling her what to do. She liked that idea.
We talked about what was to come, and she again said she never wanted to live on a machine or where she had no quality of life saying, “Put me out with the coyotes if I don’t know who I am.” For maybe fifteen minutes we discussed openly, without any judgment, just factual choices and options, her probable future. And then she gathered up her coat, leaving her purse behind and went to leave for home. As I brought her purse to her I suggested she keep it in her lap, then she would find it when she stood up.
Though I was concerned with her driving off alone, my own denial of her safety was as strong as anyone else’s. Short of standing behind her car and blocking her, I realized I was not going to be able to prevent her from leaving, yet. I called her husband asking that he prevent her from driving anymore and go with her, take her where she needs to go. He sold their other vehicles, leaving her without one to drive.
That was the last Christmas she celebrated at my home as a visitor, coming down with her husband and going back to their house. She brought her Poppy Seed Cake and made her Sally Lund rolls, that though we all have the recipe, no one can make them taste like hers. We all came together and ate with grand kids running underfoot and through the house, wrapping paper flying and Mom surrounded by the love of the family she still knew was hers.
I don’t know why it was fairly easy for me to take over Mom’s care. Maybe because I had four children and the “Kool-Aid” house and one more to care for was not such a big jump, as would be for say, someone with only one child at home and was now “doubling” those they cared for. Perhaps it was my perspective of her as a 200 pound toddler, kind of like Jonathon Winters on Mork & Mindy. Things interested or bored her and she had a creative mind. My job was to give her safe activities and keep an eye on her.
She and I had not been close when I was growing up and yet from the first time she stayed over for a long weekend, to try out living with us, there was no animosity or struggle; just a sense that she needed me and I was grateful I could say yes. I felt a calm of forgiveness for all we had done to each other, knowing the quality of our relationship was now on me–she couldn’t do anything about it.
She was not trying to ruin my meal plans, when at our farmhouse, 20 minutes from town, she mixed the entire Chicken Alfredo with a leftover fruit salad and poured a gallon of milk into a baking tray. I learned to give her tasks outside the kitchen. Nor was she intentionally making a three hour drive seem much longer when she asked, every four minutes, “When will we get there? It seems like a long way…I think I need to pee. When will we get there?” Nor do I believe she wanted to distract me from watching my son’s play off baseball game that we had traveled to, she just needed something to do. So when she decided to “catch” sagebrush that blew behind the bleachers and stack it up underneath, I let her. Never mind the giggles from children as she filled the entire area; my son played a great game and I got to see it.
When she moved in with us, she acted like she was 14 and even talked like it was 1945–she couldn’t find her steady’s pin; when was her beau calling. She was helpful when directed and mostly compliant. As the disease progressed she became more defiant on somethings, like bedtime and meals. She never changed her spots, she was actually just more herself, without the covering and trappings of social graces, manners and adult behavior. She still liked bacon but not sausage, mysteries over sitcoms, but we had to change to more juvenile shows, complicated ones confused her and got her agitated. If she didn’t like something or someone, she just said so. I learned to create the better environments when possible and have strategic plans for when she wasn’t up to my schedule. Very much like planning around a young child–sure you going to the music recital, but you leave the hall if your baby’s crying, please.
So we adapted. I had backup helpers for things I volunteered for, in case I was called away. I kept a basket of napkins and towels for her to fold. Dinner time came much earlier, so she could go to bed before dark. That also allowed us to have family time, without Mom, and gave my husband and I the couple time we needed, playing in a mixed bowling league. With her early bedtime, my sixteen and twelve year old were able to be around in case. We only had one “in case” when Mom got up to use the bathroom and went back to my daughter’s room instead of her own. Which is where my daughter found her, buck naked, ripping up all the underwear in the drawer, yelling, “This doesn’t fit! This doesn’t fit!” My daughter calmed her down, got her dressed in her clothes and back to bed but was a bit frazzled when we came in, a few minutes later.
I know it was not easy on my children, sharing their own mom’s time with their grandmother. Or having the true nature of your friends pushed in your face when they make fun of her. Nor was it easy on my husband, with no one contributing to her care. And truthfully, it was not easy on me, feeling pulled in fifteen directions instead of just ten or twelve.
And I would not trade the experience and joy of being able to care for her and provide her with love and safety and family as long as was possible for anything. My children learned that we have to care for those among us who can’t care for themselves and that they still deserve respect as people, if they don’t know who you are. My husband found that things were never what mattered and thanks to my mother’s cooking lessons, we can always stretch a meal to include one more. I learned that my own family really is there for me, helping me fulfill (and tackle!) my dreams and ambitions and desires. And we all learned that accepting each other with love, dignity and humor can bring us joy like no other.
How many of us spent hours around a card table during the holidays working on a jigsaw puzzle? In our house there was always one with different people sitting and stopping over it and putting in a few pieces. Why not continue the tradition and start conversations with DignifieDesigns simple Memory Stimulating Puzzles? Made for those with early to mid dementia our puzzles feature themes of classic cars, trains, fashion, kitchen items, all from the time period closest in their memories.
A wonderful thing happens when you bring out our puzzles. A sparkle returns, hands move over the pieces and they start talking–about the clothes they used to make; the trips they took to visit their grandparents; the instruments they played. As you watch them, there are so many things to ask them about–did they have a garden? Get their hair done every week? Volunteer at their fire department? The large pieces are easy to handle and the vibrant graphics are great for those with limited eyesight.
Each themed puzzle board contains four separate puzzles, each with four pieces. Mix up all sixteen pieces for added challenge, do one puzzle at time for those with advancing Alzheimer’s or just hold the puzzle and talk about the pictures. Just under twenty bucks, made in the USA of post-consumer materials and dishwasher safe. They help you reconnect with your loved one, learn about their early childhood and give a few moments of carefree activity. That is joy for the holidays. Connect the pieces, connect the lives.