Toy Tractors Trigger Memories for Alzheimer’s Patients

  • RDO Equipment, of Moorhead, MN specializes in agriculture. The company also specializes in giving back to the community. RDO services a metro area that is divided by the Red River of the North - North Dakota on one side, Minnesota on the other.


    While the cities of Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN are large enough to have an urban flavor, they are still rooted in agriculture, and the cities and small towns surrounding the area are well aware that agriculture is a major fuel for their economies. So, while I'm not likely to buy a tractor at anytime in my life, having agricultural business in the urban mix is just part of the fabric of life here on the plains.

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    The latest contribution from RDO to the community, and the reason for writing about it here, is that they recently gave 28 miniature tractors to Hospice of the Red River Valley. These tractors, when put in front of Alzheimer's patients, bring light into the eyes of elderly farmers who are under hospice care.


    Most Alzheimer's patients retain their ability to recognize pictures longer than they can recognize words. They also recognize tactile objects longer. So when you put a replica of a tractor a man may have owned during his younger years in front of him, the recognition sparks interest, and sometimes communication. That was the message behind this company's donation to hospice.


    What I loved about this imaginative gift is the simplicity of it all. Businesses may decide to "do something," to show what good corporate citizens they are. But what? Then suggestions start rolling in. Everything is huge, showy and likely too expensive to fly, but maybe next year they'll think about it.


    What RDO did was like presenting a gift of daisies. Instead of following the conventional and showy path of a bouquet of roses, they found out what would really touch a heart and made their gift accordingly.


    What can other companies and individuals do? Perhaps a fire truck for an aging firefighter who can no longer get into the present, but could remember the past. Perhaps a backhoe for someone who drove heavy equipment.


    What my dad needed was his brief case full of papers, his business cards, his secretary (me). That may be true of many business men. What's the harm of subscribing to newsletters they once enjoyed, even if they can't read them? They may still like to hold them. They may still feel a sense of recognition.


    I subscribed to all of my mother's magazines, and the newspaper, up until her death. Her dementia wasn't Alzheimer's, so she could still read some. But her memory (or lack thereof) made it hard for her to remember what she'd read. Still, the magazines had been a part of the fabric of her life for decades. She enjoyed just looking at them.


    The RDO committee did what we all should do. Address the person, not the disease. I'd bet that at least one person on that committee has a parent or grandparent in a nursing home or under hospice care. I'd bet that he or she has seen how much can be accomplished by taking the time to know the person behind the disease.


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    Which brings me to a suggestion in Louise Morse's fine book, "Could it Be Dementia?", which I wrote about previously. Louise suggests a storyboard outside a resident's room, telling the visitor about the person who resides there. That way, visitors and professionals are more likely to treat the elder as an individual, rather than just another generic elder with Alzheimer's.


    I think that is a brilliant idea, and I'd like to see it implemented everywhere. I will be addressing the issue in my newspaper column. Hopefully, our local nursing homes will begin the practice.


    You can learn more about Carol by going to or

Published On: April 16, 2008