Dementia and Change: How Lady-Links Can Help

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All of us face change, and if we’re honest, we usually just want to reach out and grab something to help stabilize us.  Change isn’t easy for anyone, but it can really be difficult when what you’re holding on to for support disappears.

Imagine what it must be like for a person who is given a diagnosis of dementia.  Their life, as they know it, will begin to change drastically with the known replaced by the unknown.

Helping Our Friend

This difficult journey can be made less difficult by friends and family who help them acknowledge the complexities of this change and offer help for what lies ahead. Knowing what kind of help to offer is important, and learning from those ahead of us on this journey helps.

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When reading blogs and diaries written by those in the early stages of their dementia diagnosis, there is a pattern of concerns that seems to emerge.  They want to:

  • Stay Connected to Others,
  • Continue to Do the Things they Enjoy, and
  • Still Contribute Something Worthwhile to Life.

As Lady-Links, we plan our visits with those concerns in mind.  Our visits help our dear friends maintain connections to those things important to them. Connecting to others with activities they enjoy while helping them feel a sense of significance and value is a part of our visit strategy.

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We can’t always control the changes we face but we can control the way we face those changes. Lady-Links visits help our dear friends enrich their lives by controlling at least one part of the week’s schedule by adding love and laughter through the bonds of friendship.

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According to the families of our dear friends, our visits help soften the changes that dementia brings and, as Lady-Links, we’re thankful we can do that.

Dementia and Friends: How Lady-Links Embrace the Moment

What does the word “embrace” mean to you? For Lady-Links, we use both definitions that “embrace” suggest. We “support willingly and enthusiastically” the beliefs that our dear friends have, and we use meaningful touch such as a hug as “a sign of affection.”

In other words, we embrace our dear friends emotionally and physically.  Whether we’re playing scrabble, card games, making a craft,  playing the hand chimes or singing along to recorded music we do it “willingly and enthusiastically.”

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The interesting thing is that although we made a deliberate effort during the first couple of visits to embrace (support) whatever activity that engaged our dear friend, we have found that we developed a true passion for what we are doing.  As a result of truly enjoying embracing (supporting) what is meaningful to our dear friends, the embraces (signs of affection) are real and spontaneous.

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Hugs, arms around shoulders, holding hands and stroking arms all come naturally as they would with any friend with whom we’ve formed a bond.

We’ve learned to embrace the present moment because that’s where our dear friends live.  So whatever form of the definition you choose, embrace your dear friend or loved one and you’ll find it brings joy to you both.

 

Dementia and Lady-Links: Three Ways to Engage the Dear Friends We Visit

When visiting our dear friends with dementia, we’ve found that engaging a person is easier when there is something on which to focus her attention. There are three broad categories which work well:  Shared Interests, Shared Experiences, and Shared Celebrations.

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Our Show and Tell visits are very successful in getting the dear friend to connect to a particular topic and even to add to the conversation.

Shared Interests

We’ve used objects such as pets, pottery, jewelry, pictures, collectibles, decorative items, art works and even things from our gardens as props.   The same is true with the crafts that we make.

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These items inspire comments about what they are, how they are used and why they are special.

Shared Experiences

Lady-Links are trained to relate many of the visits to memories from their childhood experiences, which in turn spark a memory for our dear friends.

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Inspecting an antique box of tatting with a shuttle made of ivory.

Inspecting an antique box of tatting with a shuttle made of ivory.

Shared Celebrations

Everyone has a birthday, so celebrating the birthdays of our dear friend is a great way to connect.

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Holidays provide opportunities for special activities, refreshments, and decorations.

 Ready for the Mardi Gras party wearing the accessories they made.

Ready for the Mardi Gras party wearing the accessories they made.

Easter Egg Baskets that were given away.

Easter Egg Baskets that were given away.

Conversation, even a few words, is treasured when shared by a dear friend.  We’ve seen links formed between the present day and the past resulting in delightful discussions.  We recognize that the dialogue might be short but it stimulates cognitive and emotional function and helps keep the brain active.

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Lady-Links visits are designed to help our dear friends maintain links to keep them mentally involved and emotionally secure while enriching their lives with love and laughter.

Dementia and Lady-Links: Taking One Step at a Time

Want to get something done?  It won’t get accomplished unless you take that first step.  Empty shoes aren’t going to move by themselves. (That’s a very loose interpretation of Newton’s First Law of Motion!)

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Taking one step, even a small step, in the right direction can be the beginning of something amazing.

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Sometimes that first step can be the hardest.  It takes courage to begin something new, especially if you’re not really sure if what you’re doing will work or not. That’s how it is in visiting a friend or loved one with dementia.   Each of our Lady-Links had to make a first visit, without knowing exactly what would happen.

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As we share among ourselves every few months about what we’ve learned from our visits, there has never been one Lady-Link who regrets taking that first step.

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I know we all remember one of the most famous quotes in history about “one small step for man leading to a giant leap for mankind” (Neil Armstrong).  Lady-Links have found that taking that first step has resulted in giant leaps toward establishing treasured friendships.

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Not exactly a moon walk, but investing in the lives of others is one of the best things on earth that we can do!

Dementia and Valentines: Celebrating Friendships

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote about it, we’re told that it’s what makes the world go round, it’s the meaning behind the name of the city of Philadelphia, and it’s found in our Lady-Links slogan. What is “it?” Of course everyone knows, the answer is love.

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The Lady-Links celebrate friendship in a special way each year with a Valentine’s Party.  During the party we involve our dear friends with dementia in making valentines to give to others in our community.  This has been our tradition for years and there are benefits for everyone.  Our dear friends feel that they are able to still contribute to the happiness of others and those who receive our valentines truly appreciate that someone remembered them on such a special day.

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Lady-Links express friendship love at each of our visits by treating our dear friends who have dementia with value and endearment.  Lady-Links personify the biblical commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” as we link love, laughter and life throughout our interactions with our dear friends and their families. For us, Valentine’s Day is year-round but we are delighted to celebrate it in a special way each February.

Enjoy pictures from our Valentine Party showing how the Lady-Links share a special bond of friendship love.

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And for the dear friends who couldn’t make it to the party, we delivered their valentines to them.

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With Lady-Links, there’s plenty of love to last a lifetime!

 

Dementia and Lady-Links: Wrapping with Care

When I was young, I remember helping my mother pack fragile items in boxes to be shipped to family and friends through the mail. We carefully wrapped those delicate treasures in layers of newspapers and sent them on their way.

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Much later, bubble wrap was invented which provided a more secure way of sending our precious things.

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Multiple layers of bubble wrap around a single item is practically guaranteed to prevent it from damage.

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Too bad we can’t bubble wrap our precious dear friends to protect them from the damages that the progression of dementia will bring.  It’s sad that there’s so much protection for “things” but not for “people.”

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Then I remembered the old packaging slogan from years ago, “Fragile: Handle with Care” which still remains in use today.

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As Lady-Links, we realize that our dear friends are fragile in many ways, especially with their emotions and their cognitive abilities.  We make every effort to show love, kindness and compassion to each dear friend while we visit her.

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In other words, we “handle with care” these fragile, treasured friendships by looking for ways to encourage and inspire our dear friends by what we say and what we do.

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The result is that we’ve found these small acts of caring have the potential to turn lives around even if it is just for a little while.

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Although bubble wrap is a great invention for protecting breakable gifts, the Lady-Links know that handling their dear friends with loving care provides the best possible protection until a cure for Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia can be found.

Dementia and Friends: When All Else Fails, the Lady-Links Know What to Do

 

“When all else fails, read the instructions.”

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Have you heard that saying implying that the last thing most of us do is to read the instructions?  In many situations, reading the instructions will help prevent a disaster.

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We all have choices in the strategies we use to successfully meet the challenges before us. Some work better than others.  Following the scientific method for problem solving is one choice but only if your investigation follows a logical path.

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But what if there are no instructions, and common sense isn’t any help? What if there aren’t any warning signs along the way?

That’s what it feels like when working with a person with dementia.  There’s no blueprint to follow, only a general idea of what to do.

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The Lady-Links face this occasionally during our visits with our dear friends with dementia.  We have an idea of an activity that will be meaningful, and usually they are.

But when not, we react with kindness and compassion as we transition to something that will work. We don’t count those as failures, because they may work next week.  Rather, they are opportunities to go in a new or different direction.

When a craft project doesn’t interest our dear friend, looking at pictures of her family might be just what she would enjoy.  It doesn’t mean that our planned activity isn’t appropriate, it simply means that something else would catch and hold her attention better at this particular time.Girl Talk looking at picture

The Lady-Links understand that showing kindness works better than following a set of directions when attempting to engage our dear friends in activities, and we do that with plenty of smiles and cheerful conversation.  Never once will “failure” be a part of our vocabulary for ourselves or for our dear friends.  Our purpose is to bring joy into their lives and into ours during our visits, not to accomplish a set number of projects.  If a project isn’t finished because of lack of interest, then smiling, talking, special hugs and holding hands take its place as we transition to something else. Those little acts of kindness are the solution.

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Kindness counts when all else fails!

Dementia and Birthdays: Celebrating Life

 

20160229_140504When one of our dear friends has a birthday, it is an occasion to celebrate! But just as our visits are individually tailored to meet each dear friend’s needs, so are our birthday celebrations.

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Some of our dear friends know it is the day of their birth and, with clues, can give us bits and pieces of information about their early years.  Yet others don’t understand the concept of birthdays any more, but simply enjoy a party atmosphere with the brightly colored decorations, the singing, the cake, and the fun party favors.

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Our Lady-Links know how to celebrate with much fanfare or with softer, gentler demonstrations of acknowledgment.  But the purpose is the same….to celebrate life and friendship.

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For us, it isn’t about age…in fact, our youngest dear friend is the one who is in the most advanced stage of Alzheimer’s.  Rather, we celebrate our dear friends’ birthdays because we believe it is a way to honor them and to show that we value our relationship with them.

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It doesn’t matter whether they “get it” that it is their specific birth day…what matters is that they know that we care and have arranged an event in which they feel special.

Dementia and Friends: Finding Joy in the Journey

 

Can the words “joy” and “dementia” be found together?

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Of course they can if you know where to find them.

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Being involved with a person who has dementia is like a journey without a  map or GPS.  You travel from Point A to Point B and the road was just a little bumpy. When you start from Point B to Point C, there’s no telling what you will find or how long it will take.  Lady-Links want to make the journey as pleasant as possible by forming a connection with each dear friend to make traveling easier. Those connections, whether through shared childhood memories or specifically selected activities, create a link between the discouragement the disease brings and the hope that meaningful times are still possible.  The word for that connection is JOY, and it can be found throughout the entire journey when a Lady-Link rides along.

There is JOY when one of our dear friends adds the finishing touch to a craft and smiles.

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There is JOY when another dear friend says a few words about an early childhood event she remembers after being prompted by something we said or showed her.

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There is JOY when we see our dear friends respond to their favorite music or game.

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JOY is given and received between our dear friends and the Lady-Links at every visit.  We’ve learned to embrace those moments and cherish them because we know that they are precious.

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Want more JOY in your life?  Choose to visit a friend or loved one with dementia.  You’ll find JOY in what you’re doing and you’ll be bringing JOY to the one you visit.

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The more JOY you share, the more peace you’ll have in your life.  It just happens to work that way!

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Here’s wishing you a JOYFUL JOURNEY from all of us at Lady-Links.

Dementia and Friends: Why It Helps to be Flexible

Are you flexible?

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I guess any answer would depend on your definition of “flexible.”  My grandchildren can make their bodies do many things my body no longer will do or even think of doing!

But the kind of flexibility I’m thinking of is “able to easily change to altered circumstances or conditions.”     If you have children around you, it’s difficult to predict the outcome of any event because they don’t always perceive things the way we expect them to.  They’re not very flexible when things don’t go their way.

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When things don’t go as expected, we have to be flexible and make the best of the situation.  Otherwise, the day is ruined for all of us.  A little humor and a lot of flexibility go a long way in turning a ruined activity into an enjoyable alternative.  In the case of the crying with Santa episode, just around the corner was a model train display which quickly turned those wails into laughter.  Although he never made it to Santa’s lap, it made a memory that we still chuckle about seven years later!

Our dear friends with dementia don’t always understand the activities and events around them because their brains don’t interpret what’s happening as clearly as they once did.  Signals between the brain cells aren’t fully functioning, often sending misinterpretations of even the best of activities.  Children misinterpret events because their brains aren’t fully developed.  Our dear friends misinterpret events because the cells in their fully formed brains are damaged or dying.  But the reaction is the same.

If you live with or visit someone with dementia, you need to be flexible….I’m talking about the kind of “flexible” that allows you to adjust to altered circumstances. It’s one of the attributes we look for when we select Lady-Links, and I’ve seen wonderful examples of how they changed plans in the middle of a visit to accommodate an unexpected response on the part of the dear friend with dementia.  Sometimes our dear friends aren’t interested in the activity we have selected for the visit.  In that case, we switch to a backup.  If a craft project seems more difficult than we anticipated, we make adjustments so that our dear friend is adding a part that is easy to do.  If a dear friend seems sad or confused by something, we change the subject.  As motor skills decline, we make changes to our activities and projects.

At one time, we used glue with our craft projects.

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However, as the dementia progressed with several of our dear friends, we knew we needed to make the switch to using self-stick adhesive projects.

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We even purchased a sticker making machine.  As we watch their dementia progress, we look for changes that are needed to continue to make our visits meaningful and enjoyable.  The result is that we meet the needs of our dear friends individually, and it takes flexibility to do that.

20160111_101218We are in the process of making a few changes, including shortening the length of some visits and extending the length of others. Change is a part of life, and the Lady-Links make every effort to support whatever is necessary for the benefit of our dear friends.  That’s what flexibility is all about!

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Lady-Links are person-centered when it comes to our dear friends and flexibility is an essential part of our philosophy.  Love,  laughter and flexibility…they’re sure better than crying when things don’t go as planned!