Dementia and Friends: What Makes A Good Friend?

What makes a good friend?  It’s something to think about, especially since Lady-Links is a group that makes friendship visits to ladies with various types and in various stages of dementia. Birthday Music 1

The question then becomes…just because someone has cognitive decline, should the definition of a “good friend” change?


Consider this quote from either William Shakespeare or Elbert Hubbard or anonymous depending on which website you chose, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, allows you to grow.”


Regardless of who first said that it summarizes what Lady-Links personify at each and every visit with our dear friends.  We know and love them as they are, wherever they are, on the dementia timeline.  We appreciate the life they once lifed, but still, we recognize that they continue to have contributions they can make, blessings they can bring to others, and meaningful pruposes yet to be accomplished.

Scrabble players

As the quote says, we look for ways to help them continue to grow and we do that regardless of the progressive neurological disease they have. To us, the definition of a “good friend” remains the same even when a person is diagnosed with dementia.

Girl Talk looking at picture

What makes a good friend?  A person who links love, laughter and life together in meaningful ways regardless of circumstances.  And that describes a Lady-Link!

Laughing fun

Dementia and Friends: 3 Years of Lady-Links Visits

Lady-Links just celebrated three years of making friendship visits to our dear friends with dementia.

3 Year Anniversary Cake (2)

During that three year period Lady-Links have made a combined total of about 550 friendship visits to 8 sweet ladies in various stages of dementia.  At our visits, we engage our dear friends in activities that they can enjoy and in which they can engage.  We bring love and laughter into their lives as well as into ours.  The following video was shown during this anniversary party and gives an overview of what the past three years were like.  Enjoy!

Dementia and Friends: Celebrating Life through Friendship

At Lady-Links, we embrace the concept of valuing life regardless of one’s level of cognitive ability.  We demonstrate this belief by visiting dear friends who are in various stages of dementia, enriching their lives by engaging them in activities they can enjoy.

DSC_4801 - Version 2

It’s not as difficult as it sounds.  We simply think of what we enjoy doing and that provides the basis for our visits, making a few modifications to fit the needs and interests of our dear friends.  It’s the way we would want to be treated if we had dementia.

Friends enjoying coffee.

Friends enjoying coffee.


In a post by Rachael Wonderlin entitled, “16 Things I Would Want if I Get Dementia,” she wrote, “I still want to enjoy the things that I’ve always enjoyed.  Help me find a way to exercise, read, and visit with friends.”  As Lady-Links, we embrace Rachael Wonderlin’s focus: to continue to enjoy the things she has always enjoyed and to continue to visit with friends.

Chair exercises can be initiated quickly and easily.

Chair exercises can be initiated quickly and easily.

Lady-Links takes those two concepts very seriously, knowing that engaging in activities with friends is an important part of one’s well-being, including those with dementia.


We believe that dementia doesn’t define the person.  Their character, experiences, faith, and temperament still have significant contributions in determining who that person is.


Our dear friends with dementia continue to deserve to have activities that create meaning in their lives and to find reasons to laugh, rejoice and love.



All they need is a little help from their friends, and that’s where we fit in celebrating life at every Lady-Links visit.

Inspecting a Cloisonne bowl, a decorative design of various colors separated by copper wire attached to a brass base.

Inspecting a Cloisonne bowl, a decorative design of various colors separated by copper wire attached to a brass base.

We found Rachael Wonderlin’s insightful article on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room website along with many others that inform and inspire.

Dementia and Music Groups: Beneficial Experience for Everyone


Lady-Links is an organization that makes visits to ladies is our retirement community who have dementia, engaging them in activities they enjoy. One of our groups is dedicated to singing and playing hand chimes (resonator bells) while our dear friend plays the piano (yes, she can remember how to play and does so beautifully).  We practice each week and have performed several times at events in our community.  One word best describes our weekly practice sessions:  FUN!

Music group holding chimesThere was a recent pilot study by Dr. Mary Mittelton, NYU Langone Medical Center, on the effects of daily living of people with Alzheimer’s and their family members after sessions of singing together in preparation for a choral performance.  This is of interest to Lady-Links since we have something similar.  Our Ring and Sing gals are friends, not caregivers, but we do meet weekly and practice for our performances.  Our dear friend is a former music teacher and had the hand chimes and music from years ago.  We saw a way to link her past to the present in a weekly activity that she would enjoy as well as provide a way she could contribute her talents (and equipment) to something beneficial for the whole community.

Hand chimes

Dr. Mittelton’s pilot study described the experience as “sharing a stimulating and social activity” and that it would “improve the well-being and quality of life for all participants.”  At Lady-Links, we found that our practice sessions were not only stimulating (hitting the bell at the appropriate time while singing) but that they were quite social as well.  We have shared funny stories that words from the songs have brought to mind as well as travel adventures (Edelweiss…one of our ladies actually has a pressed Edelweiss flower and brought that to show us).

Music holding flower


The study found, as was expected, that the majority of people with dementia improved on self-rated “quality of life, self-esteem, and communication with family and friends.”  In addition, the majority of caregivers reported improvement in “health related quality of life and social support.”  The Ring and Sing Lady-Links Gals are quick to recognize how true the above mentioned study is regarding benefits for all the participants.

Music group leader at piano

Our dear friend has the opportunity to use her skills, abilities, and talents as she “directs” the group.  She tells us that it is her favorite time of the week.

Getting an Assignment

The Ring and Sing Lady-Links Gals love it because we have so much fun while achieving a common goal (successfully playing about 15 songs) and because we are involved in an activity which helps our dear friend feel significant and valued.

Music July 2


The Lady-Links agree with the study’s findings that this type of group choral experience is “pleasurable and validating for participants.”

Hand Chimes 1

Hand chimes 2

Hand chimes 3

Music smiles

You can read more about the study on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room website at








Dementia and Feeling Significant: Why doing for others helps

“I want to help!”  Children learn at an early age that it’s fun to help.


Often that helpfulness leads to a sense of accomplishment, especially when there are tangible results.

Little watermelon

Zucchini Texas Size

As we age, we still want to help…to feel a sense of accomplishment…to contribute to something that is worthwhile.

Making cookies to share

Making cookies to share

Our Lady-Links visits with our dear friends who have dementia focus on what these ladies can still do….NOT on what they can’t do.We work behind the scenes to create projects and activities which they can complete, allowing them to feel a sense of accomplishment.  With our crafts,  all the gluing is done before the visit, leaving only peel-and-stick decorations to be added.




That way at the visit, the parts can be assembled easily.   This leads to a feeling of accomplishment which contributes to a sense of significance..

4th door hanger on door

The craft projects we make are given to residents in our retirement community, so our dear friends know that they are contributing to the encouragement of others.


20160627_144510The key is to make it easy for your friend or loved one with dementia to be a part of the activity.


Working together is an easy way to provide guidance as a “team” member, not as a teacher to a student.

20160601_152639Make it possible for your friend or loved one with dementia to develop feelings of significance by allowing them to help with a project that will be given to others. That way they will benefit from being a part of a group effort and will feel that they have contributed something to a noble cause.

20150803_150524 We are frequently told by the caregivers and/or spouses of our dear friends that the days the Lady-Links visit are the best days of the week for their loved one.  And that makes us feel significant!









Dementia and Summer Fun: Keeping it Cool with 12 Activities to Try

Summer time…”and the livin’ is easy” so an old familiar song tells us. Summer brings memories of childhood friends and playing outside until dark. Special activities were saved for summer…swimming, camping, trips to the beach, baseball games, hot dogs, ice cream and picnics. For children, it’s usually their favorite season of the year. It was a time for good fun, good food, and good friends.


Your loved one with dementia or other cognitive decline can celebrate the summer season without having to spend time out in the hot sun with just a little planning on your part. Activities with a summer theme can bring the “outdoors” inside for a much cooler, safer experience than being out in the heat and humidity.

You will want to help them link to summertime memories from their childhood. For starters, think of activities you did as a child during the summer. Chances are your loved one engaged in similar activities too. The next step is to modify those outdoor activities to something that can be done indoors. (There are 10 suggestions listed at the end of this post in case you need a little help.)

To prompt memories, we made a Bingo game with a summer theme to be played at some of our summertime Lady-Links visits.  We used clip art for the spaces. Matching pictures rather than using numbers makes it easy and fun. Plus, for each picture of a summer activity that comes up to match during the game, we very briefly share our childhood memories and often our “dear friends” (as we call the sweet ladies with dementia that we visit) will add a few comments too.


We also designed a card using the same clip art to make with our dear friends at our Lady-Links visits to give to friends in our retirement community. Once again, these pictures helped prompt memories.

summer card

We used cardstock and printed some of the message with the computer before the visit.  The pictures can be added by your loved one with glue, glue dots or double sided tape (with assistance as needed).  We have a sticker machine, so ours are easy to apply.  Our dear friends will simply peel and stick.


We added a message about the Summer Solstice on the back of the card.


The Summer Bingo and Summer Card are great ways to help your loved one link  to memories.  Other activities that are fun to do indoors that have a summer theme are:

1.  An indoor picnic.  Use a checkered table cloth and a picnic basket for the full effect!

2.  Making ice cream cones.  Purchase several flavors of ice cream and the cones, and be sure to use an ice cream scoop for the desired look.

3.  Eating watermelon. The seedless kind will be easier for your loved one to manage.

4.  Making bottled sand sculptures.  (Kits can be ordered from craft stores).

5.  Flower arranging. Can be real flowers or silk ones.

6. Planting seeds in pots and setting on the windowsill.  For an additional activity, decorate the clay pots.

7.  Throw a beach ball.  (Be sure to have a nice open indoor space for this.)

8.  Have a summer hat party!  Collect summer hats and try each of them on.  Take pictures.

9.  Make ice cream sundaes.  Have hot fudge and other toppings available.

10. Make popsicles. (There are plenty of easy recipes available.)   Have some already frozen and ready to eat so you don’t have to wait for yours to freeze.

20140807_083023Engaging your loved one with summertime activities will work best when you help them link to meaningful memories from their past. Prompting them with pictures (such as the Summer Bingo game or the Summer card) or providing them with related activities (such as the 10 listed above) will help them in making those connections. Hopefully you will get plenty of smiles and perhaps some conversation like we do at our Lady-Links visits when we bring summer inside.







Dementia and Patriotic Holidays: 3 Ways to Celebrate America

Proud to be an American!  Young and old can celebrate the freedoms we have living in this great nation, and that includes our friends and loved ones with dementia.

Patriotic Picture

At our Lady-Links visits with our dear friends who have dementia, we’ve found three ways to celebrate the American spirit during holidays like Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July, Presidents Day and Veterans Day.

#1 Do activities with a patriotic theme. 

Memorial Day craft and flowers

All it takes is a supply of patriotic stickers, stars, flowers, flags, and cardstock.

Supplies stickers 2

We have found that the peel and stick decorations work best.  We made patriotic decorations to share with our neighbors in our retirement community.

Memorial Day craft making



4th door hanger on door

Connecting to memories from the past such as saying the Pledge of Allegience will provide enjoyable reminders of childhood routines that were a part of every school day.

#2  Play patriotic music.

Memorial Day flags on couch

Waving our flags to recorded songs such as “Anchors Aweigh” or “Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder” or singing familiar childhood songs such as  “Yankee Doodle” was a great way to express our feelings of patriotism.


One of our dear friends has a set of hand chimes that she used when she was a classroom music teacher many years ago.  Our Lady-Links have learned to play them while she accompanies us on the piano.  One of our patriotic favorites to play is “She’s a Grand Old Flag.”

#3  Use a red, white and blue theme for decorations and refreshments.



4th hat LL

At one patriotic holiday celebration Lady-Links visit, we frosted sugar cookies with red, white, and blue icing to share with our neighbors.  We ate about as many as we gave away!  Bakery cookies and cakes work just as well but there’s fun and benefit for the dear friend in helping to make them.



Engaging our dear friends in multiple celebrations about America throughout the year helps keep them connected to the values on which this country was established and helps them feel secure that they live in such a great nation.  Celebrating America using a patriotic theme in the  (1) activities, (2)  music, (3) decorations and refreshments also gives our dear friends a sense of belonging and helps them feel a part of history.

Dementia and Links to the Past: Activities to Help

We all have things in our past that were very meaningful to us.  Perhaps it was the birth of a baby, a trip, a special anniversary, or even a career.  During our Lady-Links visits to our dear friends with cognitive impairment, we find links to their positive memories then engage them in an activity related to that past experience.  One such dear friend is a retired nurse and was an instructor in a nursing school.  She loves to talk about her former students and the way she oversaw their academic growth in their chosen career of nursing.


When we learned that our retirement community was hosting a Nurses Week Appreciation Event for retired nurses, we got the permission of our dear friend’s son to go to the celebration.  One of our Lady-Links is also a retired nurse, so it was natural to include her in our visit.


Our dear friend enjoyed the event and even volunteered to share her story as the microphone was passed from table to table.


It turns out that she was a mentor as well as an instructor to “her group of girls” as she called them.  She opened her home to them, hosting them for dinners and celebrations.  It was wonderful to hear stories of how life was “back then” for her and to learn that many of those former students still send her a card at Christmas.

Getting to know the life stories of the dear friends we visit gives us a connection point for selecting activities that will be meaningful.  How are you celebrating past memories and establishing connections with your friends and loved ones with dementia?

Dementia and Socialization: How to Get Friends to Visit

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte.  “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”    Do you recognize that quote?  It’s from Charlotte’s Web, authored by E. B. White.  Although Charlotte’s Web is typically considered a children’s book, the truths in it reach far beyond childhood.


Your loved one with dementia had an active social life once, filled with friends.  Friends from school days…

High School Drill Team

High School Girlfriends

who still are friends today are priceless.  This type of long-term friendship endures all kinds of circumstances yet remains strong. “A tremendous thing.”

Even recently formed friendships made when new seasons in our life open doors allowing us to form new connections and share experiences are also “a tremendous thing.”


However, in many circumstances, when one person begins a decline in his or her cognitive ability, their number of friends begin to decline as well.  It’s not that friends don’t care, it’s just that they don’t know what to do.  So they do nothing. Not a “tremendous thing.”

So here’s the question that many are asking, “How can you get your loved one’s friends to resume their connection and come for a visit?”


Let them know you will have something selected for them to do with your loved one during their 45 minute visit.

They don’t come because they don’t know two things:

1.  WHAT TO DO or


We prepare for weekly visits to five ladies in our community who have dementia.  We call ourselves Lady-Links because we are ladies helping other ladies successfully maintain a link to their friends.  Our examples are ones we have used at our arranged Lady-Links visits.  The same principles apply for men, just make changes where needed to something that your male loved one would enjoy.  Most of our visits begin with simple refreshments which provide an enjoyable, relaxed atmosphere, followed by activities which our friend with dementia will enjoy based on her specific interests and level of ability.

A little detective work is how you start.  You need to identify your loved one’s friends…long-time ones and recent ones.  Think of friends from school or college who live in the area, friends from their previous work,  friends from social groups such as golf or tennis clubs, friends from their church and from the neighborhood.  Contact those friends and ask them to visit in groups of two or three, staying for about 45 minutes and let them know that you will have something planned for them to do with their friend (your loved one).  Begin with refreshments and then help transition into what you have planned for the remainder of the visit.

Select from the following themes to stimulate ideas for things to do at each visit.

1.  Select an Interest theme to be done at the visit and have it ready for your loved one’s friends to use.  A balloon toss, listening or dancing to music, doing chair exercises, making a craft, or looking at scrapbooks or former school annuals are all things that your loved one will enjoy and will be easy for the friends to do. Perhaps you might work on a craft project that their church or community can use.

Balloon game 1



2.  Select a Celebration theme.

Birthdays are always fun.


Don’t forget to celebrate each new season when it arrives.


Some “unusual” special days can be celebrated with lots of amusement such as National Candy Day or National S’mores Day or National Chocolate Chip Day. It doesn’t matter that no one has ever heard of these special days.  That makes it all the more fun!

Candy in baggie

Microwave on HIGH for 10 - 15 seconds.  Perfect!

Microwave on HIGH for 10 – 15 seconds. Perfect!

Making cookies to share

Making cookies to share

3.  Select a Holiday theme.

Making Christmas ornaments or decorations, filling Easter baskets, and making valentines are great ideas.  Just have the supplies available and the hard work already done (such as cutting out the designs).

Pine cone decorations.

Pine cone decorations.

Easter Egg Baskets that were given away.

Easter Egg Baskets that were given away.

Valentine Ladies

Socialization for your loved one is an important part of his or her life.  At a recent “Mindshare” event sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, the importance of socialization as a part of a healthy lifestyle was emphasized with this information during a Power Point presentation:

What We Know

Social engagement is associated with living longer with fewer disabilities

Staying engaged in the community offers you an opportunity to maintain your skills

Remaining both socially and mentally active may support brain health and possibly delay the onset of dementia

When you arrange circumstances so that friends can easily visit with your loved one who has dementia, you will be helping him or her feel valued, loved and appreciated.   And that, my friend,  is a “tremendous thing.”


Why did you do all this for me?‘ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it.  I’ve never done anything for you.’

 ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte.  ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”





Dementia and Reassurance: 3 Tips that Work When Friends Visit

Reassurance…”the action of removing doubt and fear.”  Important when interacting with people with dementia? Absolutely.   In a confused state of mind, with memory loss included, there is no question that our dear friends with dementia face doubt and fear.  Yet, Lady-Links are able to bring reassurance to the dear friends they visit, creating an environment of trust in which everyone feels encouraged and valued.

Laughing fun


We will be the first to admit that we are not caregivers and that our responsibilities with our dear friends are different from those amazing family members or professional caregivers who must address health concerns and procedures.

However, that being said, we still have a responsibility to reassure our dear friends during our hour-long visits that they are safe with us and that they are in a nonthreatening environment.  How do we do that?   Here’s three tips we use at every visit to reassure those precious ladies.

Tip #1 – Be cheerful.  Lady-Links greet the dear friend by name and with a big smile.  That cheerfulness sets the tone for the visit, dispelling the tense atmosphere that might have existed just moments before we arrived. The husband of one of our dear friends always “warns” us in whispered words when we arrive that “she’s having a terrible day.”  And he’s probably right.  Alzheimer’s is a difficult, progressive disease that puts his wife in a state of confusion and mistrust much of the time.  But when she sees our smiles, hears us say how glad we are to see her, and feels our comforting hugs, she welcomes us.  Lady-Links maintain that level of cheerfulness  throughout the visit and it makes a difference.   This is not new information…the psalmist wrote about this in Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine…”. Cheerfulness transitions into fun, and we do have fun at each of our visits!

Flag day cookies eating




Tip #2 – Build confidence.  Lady-Links visits include an activity that is carefully selected for each dear friend that we visit.  We know that she will be able to engage in the activity with success.  We have made an effort to choose something that is of interest specifically to her and is within her capabilities to contribute to its completion.  In some cases, this means that the craft we’re working on has been partially completed before the visit, allowing for the “easy” parts to be added during the visit.  With some of our dear friends we work on crafts, but we have other dear friends who either are not interested in crafts or they are at the stage in the progression of demenia that even the simplest craft would be too difficult.  With those friends, we have found other activities to build confidence such as through the use of music or with a “show and tell” of an object already made.





Tip #3 – Be complimentary.  Positive reinforcement works wonders with our dear friends.  We are generous with our compliments and work “behind the scenes” to be certain of a favorable outcome with our activities.  We guide, we encourage, and we model the behavior that we want duplicated.  Our conversation is uplifting and positive.  We do not correct when our dear friend makes a mistake.  We simply move forward, providing assistance.  During a visit when we were making flower arrangements, our dear friend placed one of the flowers in her coffee cup rather than in the vase.  I just happened to be taking a picture at the time and caught the mistake on camera (look carefully at the picture below).  When I sat down, I realized the mistake and simply said something like, “Let’s try this pretty flower in the vase with the others” and moved it there.  Then I followed up with a compliment, “Oh that looks beautiful.  What a great job you’ve done.”  I removed her coffee cup from the table and made a mental note that we needed to finish our refreshments before starting our activity to help avoid future mistakes.

Lilacs Exercise and Dancing 016

Compliments can be as simple as a “great job” comment or by displaying what they have made and letting them see the effect their work has on others.  We have involved our dear friends in making cookies, filling bags with candy, and making valentines to give to others in our community for special holidays.  Always, the recepients have made delightful responses giving our dear friends positive reinforcement for something they have accomplished.   Compliments add value and respect to the lives of our dear friends.


Valentine give away with friend

Reassurance is simply a way of providing support that makes the person feel secure and significant. Cheerfulness, confidence-building, and giving compliments are ways you can invest in the lives of your friends with dementia to help reassure them.   When that happens, you’ll find that fear and doubt will be replaced with love and laughter.  We did!




Lady-Links…Linking Love, Laughter and Life