This week we moved my father from an assisted living to a skilled nursing facility, and the process was not unlike sending a kid to camp or off to college — making sure he brings the proper supplies and clothing and that each is labeled with his name, acquiring decorative and practical items for the room, such as a comforter and pictures for the wall. In a slight way, it also reminds me of enrolling my children in preschool, because as you size up each facility during tours and interviews with social workers, weigh the pros and cons, what you’re really looking for is people you can trust to care for your vulnerable loved one — who will recognize him or her as an individual, accept them as they are, and treat them with kindness and respect.
A common suggestion for folks like my dad with dementia/Alzheimer’s is to create a book of photos to prompt memories of significant people, places and events in their lives. At the assisted living where my dad resided, a shadow box outside each room served this purpose. The new facility requested a memory book, and I inwardly groaned at the idea of yet again pulling out my disorganized boxes of photos, poring over albums, and making multiple trips to Walgreen’s to pick up prints to create a representative album of his life. However both times I’ve found that, while a photo project is the last thing I feel like doing in the midst of the admission details, it became a helpful invitation to slow down and take a longer view.
I’ve liked looking at images of my dad when he was very young, long before he was a father, and contemplating the trajectory of his entire life, the ups and downs, joys and sorrows. Viewing photos of his parents at different ages, including their final years, places his present diminishment in a broader context. I also enjoy reliving fond memories of our family, especially vacations in Minnesota at the lake home where my dad also spent childhood summers. This place stands out as an iconic image in his life, so I chose several lake scenes for the book and to frame on the wall of his room.
Even if the memory book elicits no response from my dad, like the shadow boxes in the hallway of the assisted living, it will be a visible reminder to all that he lived a full, productive life prior to this disease.
Definitely a worthwhile use of my time.
Yes, we find that looking through photographs elicits a response from Bill’s mother. Music is a good touch point too. When I visit Twin Lakes I often play the piano. Christmas carols got the most people joining in to sing. At this time of the year I try hymns, patriotic songs, folk songs, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, show tunes, Bicycle Built for Two, etc. I’m trying to focus on music that would have been popular to sing and listen to 40 to 70 years ago. It is a good way to spend time with people who have largely lost the art of conversation.
The analogy to screening preschools is apt. Except now, we look for people who will be alert to retain what skills are already present and to gracefully step in to assist when ability lessens rather than stepping back as skills are gained.
Enjoy helping your father to live in his new surroundings.
Great perspective, Mary! Thank you SO much for sharing it here.