Carol Bradley Bursack, Published April 20 2008
Objects can help bring back memoriesDear Readers: The RDO Community Responsibility Committee recently donated 28 miniature tractors to Hospice of the Red River Valley.
This thoughtful gift is about more than money. The idea is to bring back memories to dementia patients with an agricultural background.
To quote Hospice of the Red River Valley:
“The reason for toy tractors lies in the way individuals with these types of diseases communicate. Some of the best ways to communicate with someone who has advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is to stimulate the senses. Whether they are sight, sound, smell, touch or hearing, if a connection to something familiar can be made, communication happens and care is enhanced.
“Setting a toy tractor in front of an elderly farmer with dementia may produce far greater results than asking them to talk about their memories of farming.”
Individuals, as well as businesses, often want to help but aren’t sure how. RDO’s gift showed that thought and study, indeed an understanding of dementia, had a part in the choice of the gift.
I often see women in nursing homes holding dolls. Others will slide their fingers over a beloved afghan that they may have knitted in their younger years. These tactile objects often have a way of bringing peace to an agitated elder. Others enjoy baking or folding laundry.
However, for many men, it’s harder to find objects that give them the same pleasure. These tractors were a brilliant idea. I would think other types of vehicles could bring back memories to men who loved cars or drove trucks.
Taking this thought process a step further, a suggestion I read in the book “Could it be Dementia? Losing Your Mind Doesn’t Mean Losing Your Soul,” by Louise Morse, was a storyboard. Louise suggests posting something outside each elder’s room that tells the life story of who this person is.
Most visitors may find it easier to communicate with a dementia patient if they have some knowledge of who that person was during the bulk of his or her life. If someone reads on the storyboard that this woman was once a judge, visitors will likely approach the person in the bed or wheelchair with more to say, and a different attitude, than they would if they just saw a “generic” elder who can no longer communicate.
If they find out that this man was a long-haul truck driver, the visitors would have something ready-made for conversation.
Every person has a story and that story is still part of who they are, no matter what stage of dementia they presently live in.
Anything that helps preserve the dignity of, and the respect for, the individual stricken with dementia is worth a try. I applaud Louise Morse for her idea.
In next week’s column, I’ll review the exceptional book “Could it be Dementia?”
Bursack is the author of a support book on family elder care. To submit questions to “Minding Our Elders” and view past columns, go to www.inforum.com and click on columnists.
Readers can reach Bursack at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her
at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.