Lady-Links: Bringing Comfort and Security to those with Dementia

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As Lady-Links visit their dear friends with dementia, we make an effort to create an atmosphere of comfort and security while we’re there.  We are trained to focus on positives and redirect any conversation that might lead to a fearful or anxious topic.

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One of the best ways to encourage our dear friends is through sharing childhood memories.  Most of us are of the same generation so we can relate to hobbies, activities, music and games we enjoyed as children.  Those conversations are like a picture being painted before our eyes.  We can “see” our childhood home, our childhood friends, and even our childhood toys as we describe ways we had fun. Often we recreate some of those memories, like playing cards or games or even baking cookies.

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It is comforting to return to our childhood memories and brings with it a sense of security, especially for our dear friends who often are anxious because they are easily confused by what’s going on around them.

Some of our favorite conversations include how we celebrated birthdays.  In “our” day, having a birthday party was a big deal so it is a natural that we celebrate birthdays with our friends in ways they remember as a child.  When we do this, the rewards are beyond anything we can imagine.  Smiles turn into laughter as we celebrate together, even blowing out the candles as we used to do as children.  We all benefit from this type of activity.

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Providing comfort and security through recreating childhood activities is a great way to help a friend or loved one with dementia.  Lady-Links are focused on helping our dear friends any way we can.

Lady-Links: Walking for Our Dear Friends

Lady-Links have participated as a group every year since our organization in a walk to support the Alzheimer’s cause to find a cure, expand research and to provide hope for those with this disease. This year we will walk on October 4th with others from our retirement community in an effort to bring more awareness to the widespread devastating effects that Alzheimer’s creates.

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We make visits to ladies in our community who are diagnosed with dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the type of dementia the majority of our dear friends have.  We have seen firsthand how Alzheimer’s affects their families, their friends and our entire community.  Lady-Links are committed to bringing love and laughter into the lives of our dear friends through engaging them in meaningful activities that they enjoy.  We can’t do the medical research…we’re not trained medical professionals…but we’re friends doing what we do best…spotlighting the need to find a cure and providing hope for families that someone cares about their loved ones.

Enjoy some pictures from our past Walks and be inspired to join a Walk yourself!

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Lady-Links: A Family Affair

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With Lady-Links visits to our dear friends with dementia, we become true friends, not just acquaintances.  We learn about shared experiences, memories and even family…especially grandchildren.  We are in close contact with our dear friends’ spouses and/or children and have their permission to exchange information about special events and people in their lives and our lives as long as it is positive and uplifting.  As a result, many of our families are friends with our dear friends as well.

A special case in point is with one of our dear friends who plays the piano each week for us while we sing and play her set of hand chimes. She calls us her “Ring and Sing Girls” and we have such a fun time with her as together we “make music.”  She is a former classroom music teacher and also gave private piano lessons for many years.

One of the Lady-Links has three grandsons who play the piano and our dear friend was eager to hear them.  There was no hesitation when we asked her if we could visit her to let the boys use her piano to give her a mini-concert.  She was delighted and was “in her element.”  She sat by the youngest (who has only been playing for about a month) and helped him with some warm up exercises.  When he played his memorized short, simple solo piece, she applauded and made him feel like he was an accomplished pianist.  She did that for the older boys as well.

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What a delightful experience for both our dear friend and us as we watched her “relive” in her memory her piano teaching days and be able to encourage young future musicians once again!

Dementia and Lady-Links: Making Circles of Love

 

 

Do you remember learning to count and to identify letters?  What about shapes?

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For those of us who remember our grade school arithmetic classes, we think of a circle as a geometric shape.  Yet, a circle implies so much more when we interpret it with the wisdom that age brings.

In a circle there is no beginning and no end.  It goes on forever.  That’s what friendships do.  They represent a relationship in which everyone benefits, much like our Lady-Links visits to our dear friends.  We’ve said this before, but we Lady-Links enjoy the visits as much as our dear friends with dementia do.  We spend time together as girlfriends, not as a teacher and student nor as a caregiver and patient.  We are friends, simply enjoying sharing stories, activities, and thoughts as we spend time together.

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An inspiring internet post,  referenced below, explains that “a circle brings people together in a social and bonding setting.”  The post continues, “when we sit in a circle, there is no hierarchy, no head of the table.”

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At our Lady-Links visits, we include our dear friends as peers while we sit in a circle having fun being together.  Of course we do some preparation for the visit.  Of course we plan activities that they can accomplish.  Of course we have studied and learned about the progression of dementia and how best to handle communication.  But when we arrive at the visit, what is seen by our dear friends is a circle of love filled with friends who care, which represents exactly how we feel.  Yes, we are prepared, but we do so with love and respect for our dear friends.

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We make our circle about relationships, not geometry, that creates and strengthens the bonds between us!

    • http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/2017/07/dementia-care-the-inspiration-of-circle.ht

Dementia and Storms: Learning How to Dance in the Rain

Highland SpringsSummer rains…good for the area lakes, but not so good for outdoor activities that require a sunny day. Fun activities such as picnics, ball games and walks in the park have to be postponed or even cancelled.  Are you flexible enough to handle those disappointments which call for a change of plans?

But what if we’re not talking about the weather…what if we’re talking about the “storms” of life?  That’s much more difficult to handle…but not impossible.  So much of it depends on our attitude. If your loved one or friend with dementia feels like she or he is “drowning” in a storm that has appeared and won’t go away, perhaps you can help “weather that storm” with cheerfulness, encouragement, and love.

elderly person aloneHere’s a saying that has helped me as I’ve faced difficult situations in my life, “Instead of waiting for the storm to pass, learn how to dance in the rain.”  The internet (always truthful, right?) gives Vivian Greene credit for that quote.  Are you learning how to dance? From my observation, I will tell you who is….the spouses and children of the dear friends we visit. They have learned how to “dance” to the music that dementia has chosen for them, and they are to be commended for doing so.

It’s not always easy to ask for help, but they have reached out to us as Lady-Links to help their loved one continue to have friends and to engage in meaningful activities.  Thank you to the supportive families for all you do for your loved one and for allowing Lady-Links to be a part of their lives and yours.

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DSC_4807 - Version 2We applaud your efforts for learning how to dance even when it wasn’t your choice.

 

Dementia and Lady-Links: A Benefit for Everyone Involved

The word is spreading about the wonderful work that the Lady-Links do at their visits with our dear friends who have dementia.

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The benefits of socialization for people diagnosed with dementia are well known.  Social interactions can benefit memory and cognitive function.  Mentally stimulating the brain through social engagement is a healthy choice, resulting in a positive attitude that can last long after the activity has ended.  Plus socialization can help prevent feelings of isolation and depression.

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One of the biggest surprises about our visits has been that the Lady-Links enjoy the visits as much as our dear friends do!

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Lady-Links was started as a way to benefit those ladies in our community who have dementia, but quickly it was recognized that our “girl time” is enjoyed by all!

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The families of our dear friends are invited to our parties and events, and they sometimes join us at a visit.  This provides them with an opportunity to see their loved one respond positively in a social situation.  In addition, they have a great time as well!

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Socialization enhances lives whether it is of our dear friends, their families or even the Lady-Links!

Dementia and Attention Span: How to Assess

What is the length of your attention span? Does it depend on how you feel?  Does it depend on what time of day it is?  Does it depend on what’s going on around you?  All of the above?  None of the above?

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At our Lady-Links training, we discuss the best way to communicate with our dear friends who have dementia, including how to watch for signs that they are losing interest in what we’re doing.  We assess body language and facial expressions throughout our visits.


When we see that our dear friend is not engaging, we make changes.  We can change the topic of conversation, the activity, and the seating arrangement.  We are flexible enough to know that just because we start doing something one way, it doesn’t have to finish that way.  In fact, it doesn’t have to finish at all.  We look at the process, not the end product.  We realize that our dear friends need one-step instructions and we model the desired behavior without reducing the relationship to that of teacher to a student.

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We are friends visiting friends, and we build bridges based on our common interests and what our dear friends enjoyed before they got their diagnosis. One of our main considerations is that our dear friend feels involved, purposeful and useful, and that she is enjoying the activity.

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Sometimes just a slight modification to the activity is all that is needed.  At other times, we get up, move away from the previous activity and begin a new one. At other times, there are too many distractions within eyesight,  so we simplify what we’re doing and remove any unnecessary items.

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It’s all about helping our dear friends feel appreciated and valued as a friend, and understanding how to make changes based on attention span is a valuable tool in helping create a successful visit.

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Dementia and Doing What You Once Did: Lady-Links Can Help

Do you surprise yourself with things you still are able to do?

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I found that to be true just last year when I went to an exhibit of World War II aircraft at the Frontiers of Flight Museum with some of my family, including an eight year-old grandson who describes those aircraft as “his passion.”

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He was so excited to see the big bombers, the B-17, B-24 and the B-25.  The public was allowed to go inside two of them, the B-17 and the B-24. Grandson Jack wanted me to go with him but one look at how we would have to climb a ladder and then crawl through some tight spaces made me hesitant.

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As a child, I was very athletic and coordinated.  Yet somewhere along the way, I had stopped doing those types of physical activities.  My mind jumped back to the time when I was in first grade when I was the first girl in my class to make it all away across the monkey bars.  Now I’m not suggesting that I attempt to cross the monkey bars at my age, but surely I could climb a ladder couldn’t I?

Jack’s voice brought me out of that memory as I heard him say, “Come on Grammie.  You can do it!”  And guess what?  I did!  It wasn’t easy, but I handled the physical challenges and surprised myself with what I accomplished.

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Sometimes we don’t do things simply because we haven’t done them in a while.  That’s the way it with the sweet dear friends we visit.  Just because they haven’t been actively engaged recently in a social setting doing something they used to enjoy doesn’t mean they can’t.

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That’s where the Lady-Links help.  Just like Jack with me, the Lady-Links help our friends with dementia reconnect with something from their past, engaging in activities they once enjoyed.

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We don’t attempt to teach “new” things.  What we do and do so well is provide opportunities and encouragement to socialize with each other, just like we did when we were girls. We find out what our dear friends used to do before their diagnosis,  and then we provide the encouragement and modifications to help them continue to enjoy that activity.  The families of our dear friends tell us that their loved one with dementia seems like a different person when the Lady-Links visit because they become more alert, more alive and more active.

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Jack loved that day with the airplanes and I did too.  Had I focused on what I couldn’t do, I would have missed what I could do!  Just because something looms large in comparison to what’s around you, don’t give up.  You may find you’ve still got what it takes!

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Dementia and Friends: Just for Fun

What do you do for fun? Remember when, “back in the day,” children actually “played” with each other.

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Some of my favorite times were playing outside with friends who lived on my block. Blowing bubbles and chasing each other filled our time with exercise, fresh air and lots of fun.   We played softball in my next door neighbor’s yard, played jacks on her front porch (the concrete was smooth there, not rough like on my front porch), played hop scotch drawn with chalk on the sidewalk in front of my house, and spent endless hours playing Monopoly, Hide and Seek, and Red Rover.

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It didn’t seem to matter what we did, as long as I was “playing” with my friends.   Today, I don’t engage in those exact activities but I still love to be with friends, engaging in activities that I enjoy as an adult.  We were created to be social beings.

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Think of the quote, “No man is an island” which comes from a sermon by the seventeenth-century English author John Donne.  Most scholars interpret that quote to mean that we need friends!  I read of a study of people affected by dementia which found that over half (54%) were no longer taking part in any or hardly any social activities.  (February 26, 2017 post on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room website.)

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As Lady-Links, we have seen the joy that comes from our dear friends with dementia when we arrive for a visit, engaging them in activities that they enjoy.  Our friendship visit concept is such an easy one….Go visit a friend and do an activity with them that they like.  Isn’t that what we would want for ourselves?

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We’re not islands; rather, we are social beings.  Just because a person has dementia doesn’t mean that they suddenly become an “island.”  I am thankful for each Lady-Link who embraces that philosophy, recognizes the importance of friendships, and helps to make sure that our dear friends still have someone “to play with.”

Dementia and Friends: Why Random Acts of Kindness Help

Random acts of kindness…I see those in our Lady-Links visits. A gentle hug, a smile, a patient response, and positive comments are some of the ways we express kindness to our dear friends with dementia.

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Another way to be kind is to anticipate what is needed and provide assistance before it becomes necessary.  For example, with the crafts we make, we do the prep work so our dear friend can add a finishing touch, making the project complete.  She gets a feeling of accomplishment and success by doing her part which we make sure is something she will be able to easily do.

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We use peel-and-stick materials representing familiar objects (such as flowers or rainbows) that are colorful and cheerful.  This promotes memories from long ago which we work into the conversation, helping our dear friends to remember special occasions or events that bring joy into their lives.

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All of these acts of kindness are small, but together they add up to help provide an encouraging emotional uplift just when it’s needed.

TapeA simple act of kindness can go a long way towards making a friend or loved one with dementia feel valued and appreciated.  Why wait to be kind?  Start now and you’ll see results, plus you’ll feel good about it!  And that, we’ve found, means big smiles for everyone!