I’d like to introduce guest blogger Heather O’Neil of Yorkshire, United Kingdom. She graduated in 1984 with a degree in Art & Textile design and writes a blog on how art therapy can help those living with Alzheimers. Creative Carer
Read how she has used her skills to engage her dear mother in productive and satisfying art projects. Heather and her mum are amazing!
Find more information about art therapy, including simple art projects that both caregivers and loved ones with dementia can enjoy, in chapter 19 of my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.” Available wherever fine books are sold.
By Heather O’Neil
My mum was diagnosed with mixed dementia – Alzheimer’s & Vascular Dementia – in 2012 when she was 82. Since then I have constantly researched how best to cope with the disease and have looked for different ways to stimulate her memory and keep her active, happy and engaged despite her Dementia.
Studies show that Art Therapy stimulates the brain, reduces agitation and creates a sense of accomplishment and purpose. This has been the perfect therapy for my mum as she has always been a very creative person.
She passed on her love of arts & crafts to me and I graduated in 1984 with a degree in Art & Textile design. I have been able to introduce my inherited creativity into my caring and I was called the ‘Creative Carer’ by mum’s memory clinic!
I started our Creative Carer Face Book page a couple of years ago to share our activities & ideas. We now have followers from all over the world and have made some wonderful friends.
I spend time every morning with my mum and make sure she always engages in some form of artistic activity … from colouring to card making … shell craft to painting stones!
My mum’s favourite hobby is making beautiful crepe paper flowers. This is a craft she enjoyed when she was much younger … I remember wonderful displays in our home when I was growing up so it has been lovely for her to be able to enjoy her flower making once again!
Due to the Alzheimer’s my mum has lost a lot of confidence and she can no longer design and cut out shapes freehand. However, if I supply a cardboard template she is happy to follow the pattern and will sit for hours cutting out pretty petals and leaves. She particularly enjoys covering wooden kebab skewers with long strips of green crepe paper to create the stems! Making the stems is an activity she can do all on her own and she can cover a pack of 100 skewers in an afternoon 😊
Together we glue the stamens and petals to the stems and once she’s done two or three with me, she’s usually able to carry on by herself! Beautiful crepe paper flowers fill the house and are a constant reminder to her that she is wonderfully creative!
I had the idea to introduce a “Job Box” a few months ago with amazing success! My mum loves to be busy during the day but without me there to encourage and suggest activities she struggled to start any projects. The “Job Box” gives her a reminder of what she can do in the afternoon when I’m not with her. Every day I will leave her a “job” … cutting out petals for example … when I return the next morning the box will be full of her work and she’s always so proud to show me what she’s accomplished.
Mum’s flowers have been greatly admired on our Face Book page and my blog and we have been asked many times if she sells them. With so much stock around thanks to the “Job Box”, I decided to fulfil her ambition of having her own little business!! On the 29th of August 2017 I opened an Etsy shop for her! We pledge to give 25% to the Alzheimer’s Society and already have made over £110 for them!! Mum’s flowers have been shipped all round the world … from the UK to America, Canada and Australia!!! Absolute proof that you are never too old to fulfil your dreams and with a little support and creative encouragement there really can be a future after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Today is World Alzheimer’s Awareness Day. It’s a good day to repost this important article and to remind people about the book I wrote after caring for my husband who passsed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease seven years ago. The book has helped so many people, which is what my intention was in writing it. “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” contains a treasure trove of information on how to stay connected with your loved one, keep calm, improve immunity, reduce stress and feel happier and healthier. Plus, it includes 20 healing modalities that the caregiver can do alone or with their loved one. Available wherever fine books are sold and on Amazon.
It’s sometimes hard to love a family member who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. People with dementia can be quarrelsome, uncooperative, negative, whiney, belligerent or combative. They might get their nights and days mixed up, pace the floor for hours, wring their hands non-stop, or cry like a baby. They might ask you the same question twenty times in a row, refuse to budge when you need to get them to an appointment, or refuse to eat what you’ve made for dinner.
When the going gets tough, it helps to remember that you love the person who resides inside that body that is tight and tense and inflamed from amyloid plaque that has strangled the neurons and disrupted the neurotransmitters that allow thoughts to flow and emotions to stay even. He or she is the same person you married, the same loving parent who nurtured and guided you, the same sibling you shared holidays and outings with, or the same friend who offered a should to cry on or who helping you move to a new home.
When you’re about to lose it, walk out, or hide in the closet, stop for a moment and remember at least one of these 10 things about the person you lovingly take care of.
People with dementia and Alzheimer’s often feel:
- Embarrassed when you say, “ I just told you . . ..” Instead of reminding them that they forgot what you told them a second ago rephrase it, breaking it down into a simple sentence . . . or completely change the subject.
- Fearful because they don’t see things spatially the same way we do. Their sense of space is distorted and their vision gets skewed, not because there is something physically wrong with their eyes. But rather, the brain interprets what the eyes see, and when the brain doesn’t work right our perception gets distorted. Two things you can do to help are to put extra lights in dark areas of the living quarters and remove throw rugs in order to reduce falls.
- Lonely because they can’t communicate well, or some of their friends have “jumped ship.” Set up times for family or friends to visit or take your loved one on an outing.
- Confused because they don’t understand why they can’t drive anymore, or why they can’t go for a walk alone, or why they can’t remember where they live or what their son’s or daughter’s name is.
- Angry because the keys to the car have been taken away, or because they get frustrated when they can’t express their feelings or thoughts.
- Sad because they can’t read a book or newspaper, or can’t manage to engage in their favorite hobby or sport.
- Anxious because they can’t move as fast or get dressed by themselves or put on their shoes easily. Or, because they hear sounds that are disturbing or are bothered by someone else’s behavior.
- Nervous because they have lost their sense of balance and feel unsteady on their feet. Or because they don’t like the feel of water on their skin and don’t want to bathe and don’t want to be forced.
- Frustrated because they can’t write a check, figure out how much tip to leave, or remember how to use the TV remote control.
- Paranoid because they think someone is stealing their money or prized possessions.
When all else fails, take a deep breath and put on some music. It almost always uplifts the spirit—for both the caregiver and the person being cared for.
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It’s horrific and tragic that eight residents of a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida died this week as a result of dehydration, respiratory distress, and heat-related issues. The nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo said “The Center and its medical and administrative staff diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma. We took part in emergency management preparedness calls with local and state emergency officials, other nursing homes and health regulators. In compliance with state regulations, the Center did have a generator on standby in the event it would be needed to power life safety systems. The Center also had seven days of food, water, ice and other supplies, including gas for the generator.”
But clearly something was wrong, very wrong. One man who learned about his mother’s death from a report said communication with the staff had always been difficult, so it did not strike him as unusual that his calls were not returned. Lack of communication is a big red flag.
My husband spent a little over two years in an assisted care facility, and my mother lived in a continuum care facility for seven years. Here is what I learned from my experience as the primary family caregiver responsible for making decisions about their care.
- If you anticipate that your loved one will be going into a nursing home or assisted living facility in the near future prepare months in advance. Visit a number of facilities in the area where s/he will live. Once you shorten the list to two or three, drop in unannounced so you can observe how the patients are treated. Supposedly, the best time to “drop in” is Saturday evening when there are fewer staff members around and visitors are not expected. Your senior services ombudsman will know which facilities have had complaints filed against them and can give you an idea of which ones to look at based on your family’s needs.
- Notice if residents are crying out for help, are in distress or appear dehydrated, and if their needs are attended to quickly. Be aware of odors (especially ammonia or urine) and whether the halls, dining areas, and residents’ rooms are clean.
- Once your loved one makes the transition into a home, get to know the staff—as intimately as your time allows. By making a personal connection with the people who care for your loved one, you will become more than a familiar face. Professional caregivers make little income, have a huge responsibility, and are often the people who know best about the patient’s needs and status. These are people with families of their own. Ask about their child’s sports team or dance class. Ask about their grandchild’s birthday, etc. Your personal interest in their life will be appreciated and they will naturally develop an interest in your loved one and your family.
- A friend of mine visits his wife in a nursing home every single day, bringing her fresh berries or cut-up melon because the home doesn’t provide fresh fruit. It’s not practical for everyone to visit a loved one every day, but when you do, bring something nutritious such as fresh fruit instead of sweets. Fresh fruit is usually easy to eat and provides vitamins and antioxidants that help prevent colds and flues.
- Make sure water is provided throughout the day–not just that it is available but that it is offered. Seniors often lose the signal that they are thirsty and dehydration can be a serious problem for the frail and elderly.
- If your loved one is incontinent, make sure there are plenty of adult diapers in the room and that s/he is being changed regularly. Urinary tract infections are a serious problem with this population and staying dry and clean is a key to preventing them!
- Be on the alert for bruises or sores. A bed sore can lead to a systemic infection and death. Speak to the attending doctor or nurse immediately if you notice a sore that is not healing. A bruise can indicate that your loved one has fallen or, in the unlikely but not unheard event, that s/he has been abused.
- Sit with your loved one while s/he eats in the dining room. Is she able to feed herself or does she sit there not knowing what to do with her sandwich? If it is a problem, make arrangements with one of the staff to help her.
- Does your loved one require oxygen? Nursing homes are required to have generators in case of power outages such as during a hurricane. Familiarize yourself with the provider of the oxygen that your loved one receives and make sure the company is equipped to provide liquid oxygen for use when there is no power.
- Remove all loose rugs and obstacles in the room that your loved one might trip on. Also, place a lamp in easy reach of the bed so s/he doesn’t fall while trying to turn it off or on.
- My husband lost numerous pairs of glasses when he was in the assisted living home. Leave at least one extra pair with the floor nurse, and keep an extra pair at home.
- Know who to talk to if you have a question or concern. Over the years, I had to speak with the director of the facility where my mother lived several times. Don’t be shy and don’t be afraid of making a nuisance of yourself. Your family might be paying big bucks for the care you expect. If something is not agreeable to your loved one or your family speak up. Most of the time the director will be appreciative to hear your concerns and the matter will be quickly remedied. If not, contact the regulatory agency in your state to file a complaint. On this page you’ll find contact information for each state and territory. We provide information (where available) so that you can: 1) file a complaint about a nursing home; and 2) find additional nursing home information provided by a state.