Dealing with the Challenges of Parental Dementia

It's trial and error with a parent living in a group homes' "memory care" for dementia. Remembering that entertainment is variable with each person's interest, ability, attention span, health, preferences, understanding/ comprehension, and memories. I have to be ever-observant while with my mother, making best use of every precious moment.


My mother seems to dislike crafts, but I am learning what she is best at, at her age of 85, but apparent mental age of around 8-12 years, by helping her to re-train her mind rather than just to occupy her hands, especially since she was never very interested in using them for crafts.

She used to play the piano a lot, type and write well. I took an old electric keyboard and she enjoyed playing that. I may find an old electric typewriter for her to try again.

She loves to be talked to, so I try to talk about world events. She appreciates knowing and hearing the reality of what is going on in the outside world rather than being treated like an invalid in a hospital. I neither patronize nor talk down to her. I try to stay totally honest with her and help her to remember when she forgets.

I bought a beach ball on a 75% off sale which I plan to toss with her, to discover more of anything she might do and like best.

I know she doesn't like group activities, so she sits off to the side or back and just watches in silence. She seems ashamed of her circumstances and prefers not to draw attention to herself as she always did before dementia.

She still likes food, so we might make something simple in the homes' group kitchen there sometime. I may have to learn to allow other residents to join in.

One thing I noticed that is missing which would help them to get to know each other better is nametags, so we might get a list of first names, make special decorated name tags of some sort and give them out. The staff encourages fun and fellowship among the residents.

She loves to keep clothes folded neatly, so we might fold her linens together because the staff often just tosses them into the bath closet haphazardly when too busy and short-handed.

She used to love money, so we might try counting money once again together, even if only a few dollars and a few coins, prior to my paying bills.We might even make a funny plastic piggy bank to which I can add pennies each time I come, then buy whatever she wants when it gets full.

She forgets little things she'd like me to buy if I can, so a "memory board" with a dry erase pen might be a good thing to have near her snack area by her entry. She needs a new bra, so I might have one that I can spare.

I avoid reminding her of whatever she's lost or has to legally do without, such as showing photos of her sold lovely home and cherished car. She'd rather not speak of them, she says.

She doesn't care for blowing soap bubbles, seeing or holding pets, electronic games, but misses her handbag. I may find an old one she gave to me and fill it with goodies like chewing gum, because she likes it and has 99% of her teeth still; perhaps a pencil/tablet, a wallet with misc. Papers inside, names of residents and their room numbers, and a comb and safe fold-up compact of face powder, chap stick, and a tiny plastic tube of hand lotion, such as a parent might buy for a little girl?

She has appreciated a hearing device that costs $16.95 New from walgreens, or mail order, which I found for cheap at a thrift store. Because it has cords to the ear pieces, and a tiny clip on amplifier, I bring it with me and let her "borrow it" for better hearing and ease for me not having to speak loudly. (She threw her expensive two sets of hearing aids out the window and in the trash in the past because she didn't like them and they often whistled in need of constant adjustment, reminding her of how unattractive and uncomfortable they are, she said.)

Puzzles are totally impossible for her to do, but I may try the fewest pieces to see if she can figure them out somehow and re-train the part of her brain damaged by stroke leading to dementia.

She loves flowers and color, so I will keep that in mind. She just might like to paint, if only with her fingers with washable tempera, markers or even make colorful clay things, perhaps wire shaped cloth flowers on pipe cleaner stems, "for someone in the hospital".

I know that she sent cards to everyone she knew, so I might bring her some older blank cards to write a message to others at the home on. There is one woman who comes into her room unannounced, leaves a tiny note, then exits as quickly as she arrived.

Other residents there seem to enjoy "borrowing her clothes" when she is out of her room or asleep, so I may leave a box of clothing just inside her room "free for the taking".

She had a poor childhood during the great depression, but played music, with dolls, so we might try to make different sorts of small dolls, such as from rags, corn shucks, spools, clay, yarn, or even potatoes. I have no idea if she has ever done this or is interested until I try to work it in.

I like the idea of making a personal book of her favorite magazine pictures, pets, a few simple jokes to read again and again,perhaps even making a personal "picture library".

Now I am saving the plastic pour-spouts ofrom the tops of almond milk cartons. They open and shut like doors, are flat on back, and I hope to place matching pictures at random behind each one lined up and glued on a page like a bingo card, but for a memory game.

Also, I hope to make a memory game of large index playing cards we can decorate two of together, then play like "go fish." It will solve the hands-on exercise.

She likes decorated things, so we might hot glue some beads and ribbons on an old t-shirt, "To give to someone worse off" (This seemed to work for homeless folks to think there were others who had even less than them somewhere.)

She still knows her math but does poorly on all other subjects, telling me that she could craft with numbers on things, stencil, count things, and maybe re-train her brain to solve problems involving things she never knew?

One thing I learned about older elders with dementia. When they don't want something, stop. They are used to getting their way in a memory care home for the most part, if it is a better group home. If it is not an accommodating home, it's time to pamper the elder parent or change homes.

I'm considering fixing and setting up an old bulletin board for whatever we make so she can look at them, and show them to other residents/ staff who visit.

Keeping in mind that vision is most important. If good vision, there are more options. If poor vision, as is too often the case, the crafts or entertainment needs to be bigger. If near-sighted, smaller items with more details are possible. Scissors, needles, pins, and knives are not a good idea to use, to prevent accidents.

Just spending time to find out what works will be an on-going joy and a challenge for me, at least during the longer visits. Coming fully prepared, keeping the work-space clean, and staying with her at all times will be very important. She is a fall-risk, and is still fairly ambulatory, able to walk on her own, but is supposed to use a walker. This also helps me to recognize and help her to have minimal frustrations as we continue to age together, as well as what to expect as I approach her age.

Inviting my grandson into the plans helps him to understand elders, to learn organization, to analyze, to plan ahead, to learn more about living and dying, time management, to put age, respect, and honor in the proper perspective, to know better how to care for others, and to be prepared for most anything. Such lessons are character building in an older child, experience a child of any age might not ever get if neither willing, encouraged, nor invited.

by Lynda from Richardson, TX

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July 9, 20080 found this helpful

Very well stated. Dementia and residing outside the home is a real challenge and giving up the normal life for such a change is quite overwhelming. You are very very thoughtful and patient and heartily searching for things to keep your mother connected to living life with the most quality her health can afford and what she enjoys.

I worked in a nursing home for ten years and I've never seen as stated so much love, consideration, and understanding explained as well as you have described.

Since your mother enjoys flowers and plants, you might take flower catalogs with you so you can both talk about the colorful and pretty ones she loves the most. I did this for an elderly friend and I noticed that it connected her to the past and lifted her spirit before I left. Seeing flowers she once owned and knew about opened up the door of communication for my friend who suffered from a stroke and other health complications. She was frustrated at times with herself as thoughts came, but she had difficulty putting it into words. Being inept at knowing the person really well was useful as you just about knew what comment she might make on the subject. She could also point to pictures.

I also took with me her favorite candy to enjoy and fragrant soaps or powders for her use. Perhaps arranging a get together of a close friend or two would be something your mother would enjoy. Having to miss out on phone calls and visits with them as she once did is an emotional loss. It's the bonding of family and friends and special items that one misses the most from my experience on the job. Taking a few of her favorite items from her belongings so it feels more like home and brought a happy memory back is what elderly people hold onto. You're a very good daughter and teaching your grandchild to observe the elderly and understand with their heart what life for them is all about is a good thing. We need more caring people in this world and you're on the right track. God bless and I'm sure your helpful insights will bless others who are seeking what you have shared.

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July 9, 20080 found this helpful

Reading your post warmed my heart and reminded me that there still are loving, thoughtful people in the world. I love you for putting so much time, effort and thought into making your mother's life as pleasant as possible. It is a great reminder, and guide, for those who are, or will someday be, in your position. Our elderly deserve to be treated with kindness and dignity. A quick visit once a week or month and a pat on the head does not fulfill their needs! I truly believe that they "know" in the core of their being, if they are being loved and cared for or if they are brushed aside and being treated as a burden.
After my mother's stroke she was unable to walk or communicate with us. I always spent time with her brushing her hair, massaging her arms and hands with lotion, cleaning, trimming and polishing her nails, and just talking to her. I could always see and feel the tenseness and sadness leave her as I touched and stroked her. She was a hard working farm wife all her life and had never had manicures or lotions in her life. I could almost see the amused twinkle in her eyes as I'd do her manicure. She obviously enjoyed them but I believe she knew they were part of a lifestyle she had not lived in her past.
You have given us a wonderful example to follow.
May God richly reward you for all the good you do.

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July 20, 20080 found this helpful

I have a question and a reason for asking: Does your mother consume diet drinks or foods each day?

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