Getting Help to Relive Memories

fun activities

With riends at a Lyle Lovet concert

People in late stages of dementia can relive memories wrapped in their five senses and heartwarming emotions. Those are the best times for Lynne and me now. I’d like to learn more ways caregivers can help loved ones relive those memories.
Recently, she was snug in the front seat of my car listening to Neal Diamond music and singing his lyrics as we drove through a rainy night. She looked out the window at parks and restaurants in her Madrona, Leschi and Capital Hill neighborhoods, interrupting her singing to briefly comment on the scenes. On a video chat she listened to me read every word of Sharon Olds’ poem, First Hour. It’s about a newborn’s thoughts. I told her that and when I finished she immediately remembered holding each of her three newborn boys.
I, we caregivers, want ideas to reach deep into more of those memories so we can relive them in restricted, confusing, anxious times.
I have read recommendations about how to assist Lynne’s behaviors when I’m with her. She opened a back door of the car to sit on the lowered seat, but said she couldn’t get her legs in. I guided her into the passenger seat. She quickly tangled her neck in the seatbelt until I clicked it in for her.
I’d like more training on drawing out the deep memories, especially when I can only care for her on a video chat or sitting alone with her, even then unable to touch her without gloves and a shield, let alone hug her. What senses and emotions help draw out pleasant memories? In the car, did feeling snug in her passenger seat relieve her anxiety and let her focus on the scenery? Was it the music? The lyrics? Me by her side? With the poem, did it help to feel secure in her favorite chair? Me introducing the poem by talking about newborns and mothers? Dad’s familiar voice? The flow of the lyrics?
I search for connections to memories by watching, listening, asking and showing her pictures to see what settings, words, images and names excite her senses and emotional experiences. I need help. And I confess I feel pressure because her reservoir of memories is draining away rapidly.
Can I get help from our worlds of virtual reality? Lynne had a fabulous time with friends at a Lyle Lovett concert two years ago. Could she wear virtual reality goggles and earphones to sing and dance with fans and friends at concerts like Madonna? Could she dance in sock hops on reruns of The Dick Clark Show? Could gaming programmers develop videos for people with dementia where they could hug avatars instead of zap them? Could exercise equipment manufacturers mimic virtual scenery while residents exercise on stationary bikes? Could we collect videos from family and friends to rerun in endless loops like TikTok videos? Could we download YouTube videos?
There must be people who could recommend more ways to raise up Lynne’s memories for us to enjoy in the present Covid restrictions — experts for caregivers, architects for room and building designs, owners of assisted living facilities with lively experiences from households or neighborhoods.
Please help.

Never Run Out of Smiles

caregiving

Thin smile with a warm wrap

Lynne called. You said I’d like this place
I do. Activities, care, safe. Staff love you. You’ve got a hard job to walk — can’t remember, find words, figure things out. You’ve got to fight through it. You’re strong. You can do it. Where’s your smile? Everybody..
always loved your smile. You used it all the time. I was afraid you’d run out of smiles. I checked, though. You can never run out of smiles. Go give ‘em one of your smiles.
Slight chuckle. You always make me feel better. OK.
She stood up in a warm shawl, hair neatly parted, framing her face with a thin smile and walked out.

I can make her feel better, for a while. I can’t make her think better, ever. Nobody else can either, for a while.

Mrs Santa Claus on December 1

Fun activities

Mrs Santa Claus Arrived on December 1

Lynne remembered her mother put up Christmas decorations every December 1. A favorite of Lynne’s was the Mrs. Santa Claus doll. Mrs. Clause was the first decoration of many I’ll bring during December.

Eric Larsen, MD Kaiser Permanente Health Research Institute says indelible memories in the first 20 years can be enjoyed the rest of our lives. “We should strive to treasure the miraculous ability of the brain to hold onto the past as well as it does.” 

Christmas decorations from the family are a good way to do that in December.

Special Caregiving at Thanksgiving

Fun activities during Thanksgiving

Lynne and her friend the Thanksgiving Turkey

Aegis reported they kicked off the week before Thanksgiving with a little fun in memory care. The Health Service Director dressed up as a Turkey and spent some time with Lynne and other residents. Lynne’s the one on the left in the photo. 😊 Holiday decorations should keep up the spirits during the upcoming “Week of Thanksgiving.” Staff will deliver different types of deserts for the residents and visitors every day on the Outdoor Living.
Lynne has been active with weights, a hair cut and shampoo and outdoor walks. One day, she came back from her walk and entered the daily stand-up staff meeting. They were pleased to see her and gave her a chair.
Lynne’s still caring for staff. She saw a caregiver have an incident with a difficult resident and said to her, “You’re having a bad day.”
A nurse told me about another bad day for Lynne. A resident hit her in the chest, hard enough to have her chest looked at, but there wasn’t a visible injury. When she was shaken by another incident she witnessed, caregivers led her onto her bike. After she pedaled herself into recovery, they asked Alexa to play Madonna so they could dance with her until she felt safe and settled. Caregivers continuously resolve such disturbing behaviors.
We have a lot to be thankful for, including caregivers in tune with Lynne during the loneliness on holidays. Bless them.

KOMONews on Lynne and Dad

This is the KOMONews report on Lynne’s and my story regarding the Alzheimer’s walk. https://komonews.com/news/consumer/dont-underestimate-covids-effect-on-people-with-dementia. I’ll be at Aegis-Madison if any of you want to join me Saturday, October 3 beginning at 8:45 am. You can see me and Connie Thompson of KOMONews at the virtual walk sites because she also has an Alzheimer’s story. Links are on the Alzheimer’s website for Seattle.

Playing Hardball to Get Through This

Fun activities


Lynne called last night at 10 pm, melancholy without tears. “Not sure if I can do this.”“Sure, you can. Your Grammy Helen did it. Once you get through this part, you’ll be happy. Grammy Helen was happy.”
“Yes, she was.”
Pam had phoned me about her video chat with Lynne when her boys joined in. We reminisced about Pam’s plight inhaling wildfire smoke in California. I asked her about the boys. “They’re doing fantastic,” she said.
I told her I caught an overthrown hardball at Miller Park with my bare left hand and tossed it back. The young men on the teams cheered. “You the man.” One ran over with the ball, “Sign this.”
I didn’t have a pen, so I bumped his ball with my fist. I told Lynne, “If I’d had a pen, I could have signed it as Dan Wilson. And the next time I saw him, I’d have to tell him his legend grew at Miller Park.”
She laughed. “He’d have given it to you.”
We paused. She took a deep breath, “I’m not sure I can do this.”
“Sure you can. Your first job is get some sleep.”
“I can do that.”
She headed for bed in her clothes. “You should turn off the light.”
She looked for it on the blank wall next to her shelves. “Lindy, I think the switch is by the door.”
“Oh yea.” She walked away from the Facebook Portal screen and I saw the bathroom light turn on and off. She walked back to her bed and climbed in.
I called out, “Good night.”
“Good night.”
I called the concierge who promised to have someone help her get some sleep.

As Good As It Gets for Dad

Fun activities

I interviewed Candy, a friend of Lynne’s about their time together at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1996. I am grateful for her memories full of Lynne’s fun and professional skills. I sent her an image of an article about recruiting talent for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published in the Seattle Times on October 17, 1996 Titled, “Want to Work for Gates?” The front page was in a 11 x 17 picture frame with a photograph of recent hires when the foundation was rapidly expanding from an influx of donations. The frame was given to Lynne when she retired from the foundation to work as a special education teacher. The back of the frame was filled with farewells and signatures of her fellow workers.

Candy asked how to contact Lynne for a video chat. Lynne’s phone messages show Candy called later that afternoon at 1:27, 1:28, 1:35 and 1:35. Lynne  missed each of those calls. Candy’s persistent. She called the next day at 3:06 pm and missed  her, and finally connected at 4:02 pm for a 23 minute and 50 second phone call.

Candy sent me this email, which is how I discovered she’d dedicated herself to connect with Lynne while she still remembers:

“I talked to Lynne via video chat today.  It was so great.  She remembered me well and was really present and we reminisced about old times. I’ll call her once a week and told her she can call me at any time.

Once they open on the CV19 restrictions, I’ll do walks with her and go visit.

Thank you, thank you for this re-connection.  In gratitude, Candy.”

As Lynne’s dad, I’m unable to resurrect those intimate stories that still exist in the great majority of Lynne’s long term memory. I’m thrilled she can share good times in normal conversations with friends. I thanked Candy for her persistence I replied, “That’s as good as it gets for me right now. Thanks for letting me know.”

I asked it I could share this and she said, “Happy for you to do so.”

Lynne Takes One for the Team

Fun Activities

Lynne Freed to Exercise with Weights

Lynne summoned the courage to suffer one for the team to contain the COVID virus.

Thursday she dressed up to return to exercising in the Aegis gym with weights. She’s walked city streets every day, as much as twice a day from what I hear. Her high-tech friends have called me with reports from their chats, such as Lynne misses her sister. Her boys dropped in for video chats on their Facebook portals since they now have their own Portals. Connections are not without glitches because staff leave before making sure Lynne is set up in a chair in front of the Portal with a lamp on so we can see her face. We’ll improve on that.

Saturday Lynne and a caregiver connected with me. She said, “I’m not sure I can take this.”

“Of course, it’s hard. But remember you don’t have to stay in your room now. You can walk your floor. You can go outside to the patio.”

“Can I go down to the concierge?  Some of these people …” 

“No, because your floor still has a COVID lockdown from the rest of the facility.  Aegis is protecting the other residents from infections from your residents and protecting the very frail people on your floor. You’ve got to protect other people.  You’ve got to take one for the team right now.”

She took a deep breath. “OK, I can do that.”

“Let’s call your sister. She’s having a tough time with hazardous smoke from wildfires that kicked up an asthma attack.”

We added Pam to the call. I said I had to go and let my daughters chat.  

A Care Team Shares How to Fight COVID Isolation

Short short Story

Lynne and I are fighting alongside caregivers for Lynne’s well being under the COVID-19 lockdowns. We succeed and celebrate at times.  We fail and despair at times. The extra heavy effort is taking its toll and still, I believe we will persist because we are listening, sharing and being patient with each other as we continue to make plans.

The main issue is how to care for Lynne when she spends lengthy, lonely hours in her room. She gets anxious and leaves her room and is admonished for leaving and is returned to her room.  She feels like she is trouble and they don’t like her. She gives herself pep talks and says, “I can do this.”

But few things occupy or empower her, leading to the spiral downward again and afraid to leave her room for help. She’ll call me in tears. “Why am I such a crybaby?”

Lynne’s new floor supervisor, Sally (not her real name), shared her experience. “I spoke with Lynne at length last night, while she soaked her feet, to reassure her she’s healthy and not to blame for anything.  I’ll be honest, it’s a conversation she and I have several times a day. It’s always a good talk, she’s always smiling and feels better afterwards, it just seems after some time alone she comes back to the same conclusion that she’s sick or a bad person. The best we can do is continue to reassure her and try to keep her occupied while in her room.”  

It’s hard to occupy her under lockdowns. She was a special education teacher and high-tech human resources specialist who talked with people to be sure they’re OK, but that impulse is completely stymied.

She and I call each other for video chats.  I tell funny stories, and sometimes get a laugh. I ask her about latest book, have Alexa play music, suggest we turn on the TV. We are frustrated because her wandering fingers turn her Facebook Portal on and off, pull echo dot plug out of the wall, turn off the TV, or turn off the sound on the TV. She gets defeated because she presses buttons on the remote but they don’t work. She quits and I feel helpless.  I call the concierge and they promise to call the floor.

I emailed Sally for help a few times as she asked but she never responded. After another night unable to cheer up Lynne, I vented in another morning email to top administrators.

Luna, the Assistant Director called that morning to talk about Lynne’s health care and mine. She worries because when Lynne and I have lengthy talks, she gets deeper anxiety from me and I get deeper anxiety from her. I admitted Luna was right. We both need help.   

She advised me to be cheerful like she is when she comes into the room. I watched her skillfully cheer up Lynne and try to mimic her cheerful voice and ability to distract Lynne away from anxiety.  Luna said, “She is so upbeat that it’s easy to do.  When she goes down, divert with all the funny stories and things that you’re doing.”

I admitted her technique works when staff come in with positive ways to dress her, help with shower, make her bed, give her breakfast, turn on TV, give her meds. But I’m stressed as a remote caregiver. I can’t do anything except talk, and she is anxious and afraid by the time she calls me.

Luna listened to me and got it.  She said, “Do this: tell her you’re going to hang up and call me or Jessica, the assistant director of overall care (nor her real name).”

I said, “I don’t like to do that because I want to respect your role as overall care director.  So, I call the concierge.  I’ve emailed Sally and she won’t return my emails.”

Luna understood and explained Sally was assigned to stay in the room of a COVID-19 patient and worked extra long hours. And Mina was gone that week. Luna repeated, “Call me or Jessica any time and we’ll get help. I don’t like emails.” 

I was pleased to be able to reach out to them and learn why Sally hadn’t responded. Luna had more news. COVID-19 restrictions should lift soon as everyone has tested negative. Lynne will be able to walk outside. She and her exercise director are going to bring down an exercise machine from the gym and try it for a week in her room. If it works, I’ll have to order one for her.  

Luna senet me a follow-up email, “Thank you Jim, I appreciate our conversations so much.”  She said a favorite caregiver of Lynne’s knows TV shows she likes and is going to make sure she is set up throughout the day.

I thanked her for our open conversation. That day I saw the plan in action while Lynne and I video chatted and she watched television. The TV caregiver came in and said, ”I know a show you like so you don’t have to watch tennis all day.”

She liked it. We called her sister to sing happy anniversary.  She said, “This Covid-19 thing isn’t so bad.  We’ll get through it.” We chatted for an hour-and-a-half as I did some work.  

That night she woke me up at 9:30 pm and again at 11:42 pm when she was in her regular clothes. She couldn’t sleep. The second call I told her she was in the safest and best place she could be and ordered her to go back to bed.

I couldn’t sleep. I was so stressed I worried about my heart. I had a cardioversion two weeks ago to restore a normal rhythm and suddenly I felt like my pulse was racing. I transmitted my heart data from my pacemaker to Boston Scientific. I took my pulse four times on my home blood pressure kit and had pulse ratings 115-116. Doctors said they get worried at numbers over 100. Should I call a doctor? I waited until morning. I emailed Luna that we needed to reduce wake-me-up calls because of my heart.

Then I was embarrassed. The cardiac care nurse said my transmission showed the heart was normal with no irregularities. I asked why that was. She said, “The question is, how do you feel right now?” I felt fine.

I emailed Luna that I was felt foolish and confused. She didn’t have to worry about a dad who was worrying about a heart he didn’t have to worry about while he was caring for his daughter. I doubt that comforted her.

Our family is recommending we set up a daily schedule for Lynne. Aegis is effective at the daily activity programs they run at regular times at regular hours before the lockdowns. Lynne participated in more of them than any other resident.

Our idea is to schedule times for music, exercise machine, TV and video chats. Staff could give her tasks as regular times, such as folding clothes, rearranging her dresser drawers, finding a book to return to Dad, coloring Aegis posters for residents. I discovered coloring greeting cards online. Lynne could color them, and I’d address and stamp them and drop them in mail.

Luna emailed, “I love the coloring greeting cards idea.”

We can do this because we keep talking and sharing to make Lynne’s life better. And because we keep caring for each other to roll with the rollercoaster ride.