Your Grandma has changed since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s not just the memory thing. You could understand that. She doesn’t seem to be social like she used to. You wonder if she’s depressed. Maybe you should make her continue her old routine. Or should you?
As a long-term Alzheimer’s dementia caregiver, I see a lot of wishful thinking going on in families. Typically, family wants a good life to continue for their elder with dementia. Of course they want that. They think it would help to bring back former joys. And secretly they hope it will restore health.
In reality, people with dementia don’t change what they do because they forgot what they used to like. Not really. Actually a recent study carried out in England demonstrated that, because people with dementia forget they aren’t following their one-time routine, they still feel as if they do. They feel the same sense of connection, link to pleasure and emotional richness as if they were still doing the stuff they enjoyed. Now, THAT’s odd and intriguing, isn’t it?
No, your Grandma has changed her social pattern because she no longer feels comfortable in it. It’s hard for people with dementia to keep up with the multiplicity of thinking required to be happily in a group. You can do it, now. But someone struggling with following even one conversation finds it too stressful.
She is developing a style that allows slower, less stressful interaction. She may be happier with one or two people now. She may do well with a pet, even if she never had one before. She might prefer one-to-one social activities. She may do better with becoming more an onlooker than a participant.
What Grandma needs is for the family to help her figure what works for her now that she has cognitive and memory impairment. That means taking her places, doing things and noting what really does work for her. Ask one of her old friends if they’ll be part of the new care plan.
It often takes lowering your expectations, without judgment. Your adjustment will be worth it. Get family members to put their own unrealistic wishes, hopes and opinions aside.
Look for clues in the past and adapt to the present. One woman I knew was famed as a wonderful quilter. With increasing dementia, she clearly did not want to do that. She couldn’t. I introduced her to coloring books, using the wonderful adult coloring books that the Dover Press publishes.
It seemed to me that, since she had dealt in color, patterns and designs, it might fill the gap. And it did. She became a coloring fan and happily spent hours daily for the next three years of her life doing just that.
It was something to do which touched on her interests and created a thoughtful, meditative routine for her which seemed to bring a lot of inner satisfaction.
As family members, we have to be willing to give up our selfish wishes — that Grandma be as good as ever — so that we can really help her have the life she’s now capable of. It takes experimenting and some patience, but it’s really worth it.
And don’t forget to involve the younger family members because my experience is that they are more open-minded and inventive about the plan to keep Grandma occupied.
What you’re really doing is making a care plan. And because you do care, together you’ll find the one that works. Lucky Grandma to have you.