Written by: Meghan O’Dea
It can be so hard to watch your loved one struggle with the effects of memory disorders like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. They can’t always find the right words they need to communicate, fall behind on chores and simple routines, like cooking and hygiene. They might even wander off, which is not only frightening but potentially dangerous. This can be very stressful and frustrating not only for the person whose memory seems just out of reach, but also for the caregivers trying to keep up with ever-evolving symptoms, all while missing certain aspects of their loved one that seem to have disappeared with time.
If this sounds like you or someone you care about, you might feel like you have tried everything to help ease the strain of dementia. However, there might be one seemingly ordinary thing you can try that has been there the whole time: music.
Numerous studies have shown that music therapy for dementia patients fires neurons in the parts of the brain most affected by the disease. Humans of all ages respond to music differently than other noise, such as the sound of traffic or a lawn mower, this is because music is what scientists call, “organized noise.” In other words, there are patterns, rhythms, and an internal logic to music that humans have evolved a response to. There’s a whole part of the brain dedicated to processing the music we hear! When a song comes on, that part of the brain lights up, and in turn signals other areas of the brain to also respond.
It’s part of why you can’t help dancing when something good comes on the radio, even if you’re sitting at a red light. It’s also why you can hear a song from years ago and feel awash in memories and sensations from that time. Both young and old respond this way. Babies react to music long before they have the language skills needed to understand the lyrics. And anyone who has spent time with kids know how much they love the repetition, rhyme, sing-along-song quality of classic children’s songs and even the hooks of pop music. What seems so natural and impetuous, can help seniors that feel isolated and withdrawn, to communicate despite their Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Playing a favorite song, album, or artist for your loved one can get them moving by lighting up areas of the brain most affected by their illness, such as those related to the nervous system. Music can help those with memory issues recall things that are not only harder to access, but might be the sort of memories and information neurotypical people might forget about until a sensory cue reminds them. You know, the kind of things that make talking about music so much fun—like biographical details about the musician, where you were when you last heard the song, or what you liked about the album art. Carefully listen to what your loved one says about their favorite songs or music from their youth, as it can be a wonderful way to reconnect outside the usual topics of medication reminders and daily doings.
Pull out old records or CDs and tailor the songs played to your loved one’s mood—upbeat songs for when they need a little stimulation or conversation, quieter songs for times of rest or when they need help calming down. Afterwards, chat a little about what you heard, or pull out paper and pens and each draw something inspired by the music, even if it’s abstract. You can compare drawings later, too. You might be surprised by what a big effect the right song can have, or if you’re a music lover yourself you might understand completely. Some things are just an inherent part of being human, and getting excited about a great melody or a percussive beat that hits the right spot is one of them.
If you want more tips for how to navigate the complex world of memory care, you can find plenty of resources at the Alzheimer’s Association website. Some of what they offer includes message boards where you can connect with other caregivers, friends, and family who are also struggling with a love one’s early, middle, and late-stage Alzheimer’s journey. There are also plenty of tools to help you find resources in your community. You can find them online at http://www.alz.org/care/.
If you need advice, support lines like the Veterans’ Affairs Caregiver Support Line can help. If you are looking for support or information on what the VA can provide, call 1-855-260-3274 or the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s line at 866-232-8484 (toll-free 9AM to 9PM Monday through Friday).
Written by: Meghan O'Dea
It's definitely not hard to acquire stuff throughout the years, yet over time there comes a peak moment when we need to rid our home of clutter and downsize into a smaller space. For most adults, that time happens when our children mature and have a family of their own, or perhaps it’s a result from a healthcare related issue.
For seniors considering decluttering, it may allow you to:
The top 10 dos and don’ts in downsizing:
1. DO NOT Wait
Spread the downsizing process out more than just a few days or even weeks. If time permits, begin at least 6-8 months in advance instead of trying to to make the difficult decisions of letting go in a shorter period of time. Also, be mindful with of your time; even though it may seem as if there is plenty of it – there never is, especially in those with a disability.
2. DO Plan
The professionals at lifehack.org advise thoughtfully planning out before jumping in head first. Take baby steps with identified zones to before beginning the long road to downsizing. For example, plan to start in the closet with old clothes, shoes, and accessories that are never worn.
3. DO NOT Panic
Taking on a big project like this in full can easily start to feel overwhelming when looking at the big picture. Remind yourself that it has taken years to accumulate personal belongings, so the likelihood of finishing in just one day is just not realistic.
4. DO Prioritize
Belongings should be sorted into different 3 identified boxes, labeled as keep, donate, and discard. To prioritize, things that are outdated should be the first to go. For example, books that haven't been read in quite a while, furniture that is never used, et cetera. Strategists from Lifehack suggests discarding anything that does not “spark joy”.
5. DO Make Hard Choices
It’s normal to feel nostalgic about certain items that remind us of fond memories. It’s also normal to feel heartbroken and guilty when disposing of things that are special to us. While it is an extraordinarily difficult time letting these possessions go, remember that one individual's trash is another person's treasure. For making these difficult decisions, use the yes-no method. Simply ask yourself, “Do I really need 10 winter coats?” or “Will I use 3 frying pans?” This step helps the flow of sorting while remaining neutral and concise.
6. DO NOT Create a “Maybe” Pile
This unnecessary 4th pile is a dangerous one. This gray space is where we start to question ourselves, letting doubt come between our progress. The solution? Ask yourself if you have used the item within a year. If not, chances are you won’t again.
7. DO Adapt
Most people prefer to age in place, however, depending on the situation this may not be an option for some seniors. The key is to adapt. Flexibility is crucial when it comes to extreme changes, especially when downsizing. For example, learn to part with belongings that take up too much space, like the never disheveled stack of loose photos. Adapt by scanning them onto the computer to keep them preserved and easily accessed. The same can be applied to music and movies with modern technology devices like Netflix, Spotify, and Apple Tv.
8. DO Repurpose and Recycle
Do consider donating, reusing, and recycling. The neighboring homeless shelters would much appreciate your closet full of unused winter coats. Need some extra pocket change? Post items online, such as eBay or Craigslist. If you have the time, host a garage sale. These methods can lessen the mess in your home and also give a second life to older items.
9. DO NOT Hoard
A senior whose living space has become unsanitary, hazardous, or unable to function may show symptoms of an elderly hoarding disorder Be between being something of a pack rat saving things for a stormy day instead of saving and assembling things that are used, broken, chaotic or of no regard. Gatekeepers may find stores of decline or waste spread all through the house, which makes a dangerous risk for tripping and falling.
10. DO Be Sensitive
If the senior is showing hoarding behaviors, this could be a symptom of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Take note of sudden mood changes, forgetting to take prescribed medications, or letting bills go unpaid. Be sensitive towards seniors struggling to remember. They may start to feel attacked, defensive, or confused when disposing of their things. Patients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s should be moved to our Regency Memory Care facility for their daily assisted needs.
It's imperative to start decluttering now, so the move to your new home at Regency Assisted Living can be as fluid of a transition as possible. For more information on downsizing, see tips at http://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/15-9-5-senior-downsizing tips/
“Keeping baggage from the past will leave no room for the happiness in the future” – Wayne L. Misner
Written by: Katie Hanley