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?

Sharing with the woman who runs our local Market.

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?

Dancing to Perry Como.

Dancing to Perry Como.

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.

Plane entrance

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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Plane guns

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!

 

 

Dementia and Lady-Links: Lean on Me

Ever had to have a little help from a friend?

Lean on me Birdie

Most of us do need some help from time to time whether it’s emotional or physical help.  We may think we’re Super Woman . . .  and can do everything ourselves. Actually we’re not anywhere close to being Super Woman. No woman is, regardless of how mentally or physically healthy she is.

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Recently,  I had the opportunity to go to a children’s event on a ranch in east Texas. There was a lot of walking up and down some rugged terrain, and I needed help along the way due to an injury from years ago that still limits my ankle’s range of motion.    I gladly accepted help from those with me and “leaned on” them when necessary.  The journey would have been very difficulty without that help.

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That outing made me think of the song “Lean on Me” written by Bill Withers. After reviewing the lyrics, I thought about our dear friends with dementia. They are at a point in their lives in which very little makes sense.  They need friends they can lean on to “help them carry on.”

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As Lady-Links, we are providing emotional support for them through our friendship visits.  In my life, I’ve found that dealing with emotional needs requires the greatest act of friendship possible because of the complications that are associated with one’s feelings.  With physical difficulties, the solution is obvious as it was with my struggles on the walking trail.  With emotions such as confusion and fear, the need and its resulting solution may not be so obvious.  Lady-Links are trained to recognize those areas of emotional concern and know how to respond with encouragement and compassion.

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Lady-Links recognize in our dear friends, as the song says, ”a load that they can’t carry,” and assess the situation quickly and respond lovingly.    At our visits we are doing our best to help our dear friends “carry on” by providing “someone to lean on” and it’s working well.

Dementia and Lady-Links: Wishing or Working?

Do you remember going to the movie theater as a child?

Old Yeller

I do, and I enjoyed those Saturday matinees before life got complicated as a teenager!  Everything from Disney movies to the Lone Ranger brought me two hours of pleasure, first with my mom and then later with friends from my elementary school.  Movies entertained and inspired, but especially those which showed a major problem being solved by a hero or perhaps by a wish coming true.

Dumbo

Ahh, those were the days of childhood.  Songs like “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Disney’s Pinocchio made me feel like anything was possible, even turning a wooden puppet into a little boy.

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If only it were that simple.  Lady-Links recognize that dementia brings with it a difficult and complicated time for our dear friends and their families.  That’s why we don’t sit home and wish there were something we could do to help.

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We do something about it!  We work to find the best way to communicate, engage, and encourage our dear friends with dementia, and then we do just that at every visit we make.

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Wishing, as a child, helped me to dream big.  I am thankful for those movies which helped provide that type of motivation.  But I’m even more thankful that as I grew up, my wishing became less and less and my ability to work for causes that were passionate to me became more and more.

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Lady-Links are passionate about our work with each of our dear friends.  We are bringing joy into the lives of those we visit and hope into the lives of their families.  Not the hope that says we are the cure for this progressive neurological disease, but the hope that brings with it the assurance we can enrich our dear friends’ lives through love and laughter.

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Wishing or working?  Lady-Links have made their choice.

Dementia and Lady-Links: Life and Chocolates

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re gonna get.”  Recognize that quote?  It’s from the movie, “Forrest Gump,” which is one of my favorites.

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That quote can be interpreted many different ways, and I think the movie did a great job of showing how Forrest Gump took each event in his life and made it something positive.  That being said, I looked at a box of assorted chocolates recently trying to make a decision about which one to select. I thought about what Forrest Gump’s mother said, and I didn’t want to fall into the category of relying on “chance” to get what I knew I wanted.  My hope was that I would get a piece that had a creamy center.  That’s when I realized that there were clues to what was inside each piece if I only knew where to look.

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Have you done that? Looked for clues to help make a good choice?  The most obvious suggestion is to look on the bottom of the box or inside the lid where sometimes a diagram with a description of each piece is given.  Since there wasn’t a diagram with this particular box of candy, I needed to rely on my observations such as shapes and sizes of each individual piece.  I made the smart decision to avoid the bumpy pieces since they most likely were filled with nuts so I looked for a rounded piece without the lumps.

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In other words, a trained eye can make a reasonable choice which will likely result in the desired outcome (deliciousness!)

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As I savored the piece that I had successfully selected according to my individual preferences, I thought about Lady-Links.  As we visit our dear friends with dementia, someone who isn’t familiar with us might conclude that we can’t possibly know “what we’re gonna get.”  Yet, Lady-Links are discerning enough (through our training, our experiences and our temperaments) to make choices that will lead to a successful outcome.  There are certain signs or clues we look for, thus preventing the anxiety of the unknown.

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We set the stage for a successful outcome by learning all we can about dementia and planning carefully for each visit.  We have planning meetings, called Link-ups, several times a year where we have training sessions, dementia education updates, discussions and feedback regarding our approach to friendship visits with the ladies in our community who have dementia.  Within reason, “we know what we’re gonna get” and since reason doesn’t always fall in the same sentence with dementia, we prepare for those situations as well.  As a result, Forrest Gump’s mama might have to amend her advice when talking with Lady-Links to something like this, “Life is like a box of chocolates.  You Lady-Links probably know what you’re gonna get.”

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Friends enjoying coffee.

Lady-Links are “chocolate-candy-picking experts” who I know would have walked over to sit beside Forrest Gump as he sat alone on that bench waiting for a bus to arrive.  We would have engaged him in conversation, eaten some of the chocolates he offered, and encouraged him along his journey.  As Lady-Links, we open each “box of chocolates” with confidence every time we visit our dear friends, knowing that our choices will be the best possible ones given the situation we’re facing.

Don’t let visiting a friend or loved one with dementia or even picking out a piece of chocolate from a box of unknowns overwhelm you. Learn all that you can and make the decision to go for it.  Try it, you’ll like it!

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Dementia and Support Groups: Lady-Links Bring Friendship and Support to Every Visit

Lady-Links is a type of support group for ladies with dementia, bringing friendship and support to every visit.

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Miriam-Webster defines a support group as “a group of people with common experiences and concerns who provide emotional and moral support for one another.” Many of our Lady-Links have or had a family member with dementia.  All of our Lady-Links have friends with dementia.

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We offer the dear friends we visit encouragement and support because we have seen firsthand the concerns that any type of dementia brings on the person who has been diagnosed with it. We listen, we respond, and we smile.  We offer suggestions when help is needed, and we react with love, patience and kindness when doing it.

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We know how to guide and empower our dear friends and how to offer them a sense of community. We let them know that their lives matter and have value. We help our dear friends find links to their past memories and pay attention when they connect.  We let them know that they are still the wonderful person they were before they were diagnosed, and our actions show that we value their friendship.

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On the surface our visits look like any visit to a friend would look.  What is not seen is all the training, planning and preparation that goes into each and every visit to make it provide “emotional and moral support” for our dear friend.

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After all, that’s what good friends and support groups do…provide emotional and moral support. Lady-Links serve in both capacities and do so with love and laughter too!

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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.

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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.