I just finished reading "And The Mountains Echoed," by Khaled Hosseini.

It is a wonderful book, a little confusing as it jumps back and forth between various eras, and has two characters with the same name. But the end of the book, and the life of the character that begins the story, tells of his drop into the foggy realm of Alzheimer's.

While his daughter is caring for him at home, she defuses his out of control rants by quickly giving him a catalog to distract him from whatever has upset him. Another trick she used was to turn the TV to the Weather Channel, boring him enough to put him asleep.

Great ideas – I hadn't thought of them.

When he finally ends up in a memory care facility, the author tells of them using a "fidget apron" on him. The apron has strings he can tie or twist, and buttons that he can work with, helping to relieve agitation.

Those things made me begin to wonder what other tricks memory care units use to calm and occupy patients that we caregivers could adapt for home use.

Of course, the book itself is fiction, but I am sure the ideas came from real life experiences. So I began digging for information. Thanks to the Internet, answers were just a click away:

  • One suggestion was to use "tool boxes" to jog the patient's memory and even start a dialogue about their recollections using certain items such as kitchen utensils, sewing supplies, tools and cleaning implements.
  • Small area maps, found in drug stores or restaurants, can be used to help patients find their place in the community.
  • Reduce stress and create a calm environment by playing music the patient may recall from his or her youth or church memories. Just last week, Charlie asked me to order a set of CD's with music from the 1950's that were advertised on TV. Hearing the music began to stir memories from his past and he wanted to make them a part of his present. Also, whenever he hears music from the Viet Nam era he begins talking about his service there in the late ‘60s.
  • Patients in the later stages of memory loss may find it soothing to hold a doll or stuffed animal. A stuffed dog or cat, for instance, may even become a satisfactory replacement for a pet left behind when the patient entered long-term care.

Dementia, distant memories and simple chores

Charlie's daughter made him two beautiful scrapbooks: one with photos and memorabilia of family, the other, a book of his military experiences. He enjoys sitting and reminiscing about events that are triggered by the photos and news articles.

Like most patients with dementia, he has far better recall of things from the distant past than what transpired yesterday.

I had a neighbor whose claim to fame was her spotless house. This didn't change when she fell into the dementia pit.

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Day after day she wandered the house cleaning the same drawer(s) that she had cleaned yesterday. At first, her husband told her to stop, reminding her that she did that yesterday. But, he finally learned that to her, she was "spring cleaning" each and every day, and was proud of the work she was doing.

Giving the patient simple chores to do will give them a sense of usefulness. Just be careful not to criticize if the chore isn't done up to your high standards.

Charlie loves to feed the birds. I buy a loaf of bread each week, just so he'll have something to feed the crows. He waits by the window for them to come from the perch, high above the house, where they await his daily bounty. I'm sure they wouldn't starve without his help, but he feels like he has done something important. And he has – for himself as well as the birds.

If you are a reader, borrow the Hosseini book from the library and do something to relieve your own stress.