Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Finding a Connection

A couple of months ago, I began thinking about activities that I could do with my mom that would be meaningful and even stimulating for her. I came upon a set of books geared towards people with Alzheimer's and Dementia.

The idea of these books is to provide activities for and improve communication with people who suffer from dementia. There are several different books to choose from, and I decided to give it a try and ordered the America book (as shown below).

I chose this book with the idea that looking at the pictures from landmarks of America would spark some memory in mom and create some dialogue for us aside from the everyday topics of medications and aches and pains. Mom always loved to travel and had visited many of the places that were pictured in the book, so I figured this would be a good choice.

Throughout each book, there are beautifully photographed pictures on one page and on the corresponding page there are interesting facts about the pictures, quotations, questions, etc. What I liked best about the book was that at the beginning of the book, there are guidelines to help you interact with the dementia person. They give helpful hints about communication, such as making eye contact when you talk, getting on their level, etc. They also give some great ideas on how to create dialogue by asking thought provoking questions and provide examples of such. I was very optimistic and enthusiastic about taking my new book over to mom and looking through it together.

"Mom, I got you something," I said, inviting her over to sit down next to me on the couch. After some coaxing to get her to sit next to me, I explained that I got a book for her that I'd like to look at together. I told her it had pictures of different places that she had visited and that I was excited to hear about her stories of those places. I opened it up to a page I knew she would remember.

"Do you remember when you went to New York and saw the Statue of Liberty?" I asked, pointing to the large statue of Lady Liberty.

Mom squinted her eyes and looked confused.

"No, I don't know about that."

As I continued to explain New York, reminding her about the trip they had taken several years ago, and talked about the Statue of Liberty, something finally sparked in mom.

"We went to New York, yeah. What good thing we got to see was that place, that religious place [Palmyra], and that airplane place where people were killing people too but it was closed down too," she said, referring to Ground Zero (their trip to New York was right after 911 took place). She talked of some memories of New York but when asked again if she recognized the statue she gave me a blank look and sort of shook her head.

I turned to the next page: The Grand Canyon. This was the first big family vacation I remember taking as a child-to the Grand Canyon and up through Zion and Utah. Mom did not recognized the picture on the page, but eventually after describing what and where the Grand Canyon was, she brought up memories of visiting there with her older brother as a child.

"I don't recall taking you to Arizona. Trying to remember where Arizona is. My brother took me as a kid, my brother Mike took me too and we took a fun thing too and that, that ani-animal place thing too, there's one in Utah too. Am I correct in saying animal?"

I struggled to understand exactly what she was talking about, but finally figured that she must be talking about a dinosaur park (there's a dinosaur museum in Utah that she talks about every so often, which she visited on a vacation with my sister's family). And she must have taken some sort of ride around the park on a train or something. (I'm sure my Uncle will help recall this memory in the comment section ;) I was a little sad that she couldn't remember taking her children here on vacation. It seems that the earliest memories are the ones she remembers the most clearly.

A few years ago, mom and dad went on another vacation to New York and visited Niagara Falls. My brother and his girlfriend at the time (now wife) met up with them and it was mom's first time meeting Natalie. It was a vacation that she absolutely loved and Niagara Falls was a place she had always wanted to go and see. I thought for sure she would remember the picture of the beautiful cascading waterfall.

"It says Canada," she said, reading the caption on the next page over. "I don't know about Canada."

Try as I might, mom could not recall Niagara Falls.

It was apparent, at this point, that mom's attention was dwindling. Between each page, she would try to change the subject to her doctor or her medication but each time, I tried to bring her back to focus. I was determined to talk about something else and maybe, just maybe, find some kind of connection with my mom again.

Turning to the page of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, mom says,

"Where is San Francisco?"

I explained to her that it was up north, near San Jose which was where we went EVERY SINGLE Easter of my childhood to visit my Aunt and cousins for the holiday. Eventually, mom remarks,

"Oh, I went many years ago, we went to a bridge thing too and that's when I could still be a driver. I'm still young enough to be a driver." And with that, mom became side tracked and went on her rant about driving.

I tried to reel her back in and showed her the picture of Mt. Rushmore, explaning the history behind it. Mom abruptly stood up, walked over to a box of tissues, wiping her nose, and said,

"Hmph. Wonder why my nose is bleeding so red." (On a side note, I did not see any red blood at all).

I tried again to bring her back over to finish looking at the book. But mom walked right past me as if I wasn't even there and walked out the front door, mumbling something about the mail being there. After a couple of minutes, she came back in sat down beside me to sort through her mail. She glanced over at me, and the book on my lap, gave me a glare and snapped,

"I don't care to look at that stuff." She got up and walked away to her computer.

I was a little bit disappointed that more of a connection and dialogue wasn't made with mom, especially because these books are geared towards people with dementia. However...there are a couple of things I realized during that session.

#1. However slight it was, mom DID remember some things and was able to (somewhat) communicate her memories.

#2. Mom's form of dementia is very different from Alzheimer's. It is, in fact, one of the rarest forms of dementia out there. I am sure these books are great for people with other forms of dementia, but with mom's form her semantic memory is affected. This type of memory is responsible for giving meanings to what symbols (visual) and words (auditory) represent. She is unable to identify memories of specific places simply by telling her the name of the place or showing her a picture. We have to dig a little deeper to reach those memories.

Perhaps taking a different approach would be helpful the next time around in showing her a book. Rather than making memories the focus, I will simply talk about the beauty of the pictures and try to get some dialogue on what she thinks or how she feels about it.

For my readers who have a loved one with dementia, you can find these books on Amazon. I am very curious to hear about others' experiences with these books. So if you do decide to order, let me know how it goes ;) I've attached the direct links here:

You can also visit the companies website directly: http://www.shadowboxpress.com/index.html#

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