People With Dementia Can Often Enjoy the Past in the Present

Caregiver, patient expert

My sister works for Prairie Public, our PBS station here on - well, here on the prairie. Prairie Public religiously runs the old Lawrence Welk shows, which are nearly fought over by underwriters, as they are so loyally watched. Lawrence Welk was born in tiny Strasburg, ND and died in 1992 in Santa Monica, CA. He had a large national audience during his television years, comprised of many people now in their 70s, 80s and up. So, while his importance as a cultural icon may loom larger in the prairieland than elsewhere, he wasn't regional.

The point of this? My sister was told that her colleague's mother, who was viewing the program, had said to the adult child, "Lawrence Welk looks wonderful. He just doesn't age"  To her, Lawrence Welk is alive and well and not aging, since she's seeing him on television.

Many who listen to him are well aware he is dead. My mother generally remembered that, though I think she'd sometimes forget. The show was always on the big TV in the lounges at the nursing home, but my mother would push her walker to my dad's room and they'd watch the show together. That was one time that I could be sure they were both content.

There are so many things that can help an elder with dementia. I've written before about my dad and all of the big-band CDs I'd bring him. However, the Alzheimer's Store at offers some very imaginative things that can help your elder with Alzheimer's or other dementia - or even just an average elder who likes to reminisce.

One of the ingenious products they offer is a 1950s type Sears catalog with the styles and fashions of the day. Heck, I'd have fun with one of those, as I wore bobbie socks, saddle shoes and even had a poodle skirt.

The store offers DVDs with old radio and TV shows, as well as a DVD titled "Echoes From the Past." They have a small handyman box as well as an appropriate cuddly (washable) doll. Some women really get into dolls and/or stuffed animals, as they want to hold and cuddle something. This depends on the woman and the stage of the disease. My mother was insulted by any attempt to give her a doll or stuffed animal, which was often, as well-intending charities often left small stuffed creatures for each resident.

I've also written, on this site, about a local company named RDO that gave toy John Deere tractors to Hospice of the Red River Valley for people with an agricultural background. Farmers were either green (John Deere) or red (Case) - hey, I'm learning here. I'm a city kid. Anyway, another local company, called Titan Machinery, has now stepped up to the plate and donated red Case tractors to HRRV to give to farmers who had red tractors. Giving the wrong color can sometimes bring on rage, believe it or not.

My mother reacted negatively to dolls and stuffed animals, but thoroughly enjoyed Lawrence Welk and would have loved that 1950s style Sears catalog. A restaurant owner wouldn't be pleased with a tractor of any color, but he or she may enjoy food magazines with lots of pictures. If older ones with old equipment featured can be found, that would be even better. Sometimes hording is good, right?

Choosing things that will entertain elders with dementia can be tricky, but if we know them well, or professionals do a good job of learning about who the people with dementia are and what they did for most of their lives, there are often items that can enrich their lives and give them pleasure. It takes time, caring, research and imagination, more than money. The extra effort is worth it.

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