"Anything that may trigger a feeling or memory is worth a try" writes Amanda Franks, describing her efforts to support her Mother who is in the later stages of Early-Onset Alzheimer's disease.
Writing for the charity, Alzheimer's Research UK, Amanda describes how her latest gift of a Memory Blanket, personalised with large scale family photos, has had a profound and moving effect on her Mum....
Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. I’ve watched my mum fade by the day and anything that may trigger a feeling or memory is worth a try. When I came across the memory blankets sold through Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Memory Store I didn’t hesitate in ordering one.
I chose a variety of photos. I never quite know which decade Mum is in so I found a selection from across the family and across the ages; and off they went to be made into a blanket.
When it arrived I couldn’t have been more delighted. The quality was outstanding. A thick fleece, I chose a baby pink for the reverse. The pictures were crisp and of a size and colours that I hoped would grab Mum’s attention.
I took the blanket straight over to Mum at her care home. Mum was 58 when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. While she is physically okay, at 65 she is now in the advanced stages of the disease. These days, photo albums and pictures rarely get any attention. I showed her the blanket and she smiled and nodded but following a pointing finger is no longer a natural response. As ever I talked through my latest gift and laid it out across the foot of her bed and carried on chatting. Verbal communication is almost gone but she began to stare at the blanket and smile. I can’t expect a thank you these days, but just seeing a glimmer of recognition and a feeling of warmth pass over her face made it all worthwhile.
A few days later I visited Mum. One of the carers came straight over and said that Mum had taken her by the hand and shown her a picture of me as a child on the blanket. The carer said that Mum pointed to the image and told her she had looked after that little girl. Apparently Mum was very determined to show her. This was a reaction she experienced alone in her room when a brief second of lucidity had allowed her to see and feel the love she had for her family.
The memory blanket is a wonderful item and is there in the moments of clarity. Everyone who visits mentions the blanket. I say she is wrapped in the love, warmth and most importantly the security of her family thanks to this simple blanket.
Alzheimer’s Research UK has joined forces with online retailer Bags of Love to enable people living with dementia or their loved ones to create personalised memory blankets using their chosen photos. Visitors to the site can order their memory blanket from ‘The Memory Store’, a purpose built shop for Alzheimer’s Research UK within the company’s main website, with 30% from each product sold donated to Alzheimer’s Research UK to fund pioneering research.
Article first published on Alzheimer's Research UK blog 12/11/15
Researchers at King's College London have published their findings of a 6 month study into the effects of sustained daily use of computer brain training games on people over 50.
Just 10 minutes of play daily on problem solving and reasoning games helped participants in the study improve both their memory and reasoning skills.
The findings are significant, point out the researchers, because the effects of such brain training could have a positive impact on how well older people are able to carry out everyday tasks such as navigating public transport, shopping, cooking and managing personal finances.
Further research is now planned by the team at King's College, explains Dr Anne Corbett, to explore whether computer brain training games could have a place in reducing people's risk of developing dementia as they get older.
“The impact of a brain training package such as this one could be extremely significant for older adults who are looking for a way to proactively maintain their cognitive health as they age.
We’re launching a new open trial to see how well older people engage with the brain training package over the long-term. We want to investigate how genetics might affect performance to allow us to better understand how brain training could be used to maintain cognition or even reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.”
The Alzheimer's Society, which funded the research, is encouraging people to have a go at brain training. Visit their web page by clicking here to try out a demo brain training game
To read more about the research visit King's College London website
Dementia alters people's perceptions which is likely to make it difficult to do things and celebrate in the way you have in the past. This does not mean you have to scrap your plans for Christmas altogether though.
Maizie Mears-Owen, Head of Dementia Services at Care UK, suggests some simple ideas that can make a big difference and help the whole family enjoy the Christmas festivities.
"Begin to prepare them in advance by talking about who will be there, and who those people are to them - niece, grandson, friend. Photographs are very useful for this as it will help them to recognise faces."
Photographs can also be useful because people with dementia may be living in a different decade. It is common for people to believe they are at a younger point in their lives. If this is the case, use older photos to explain who people are - and don't get upset if your relative gets names wrong.
"If your mother calls you 'mum', do not get embarrassed and do not correct her - she is just at the point in her mind where you are her mother's age, or she sees something in you that reminds her of her mum," says Mears-Owen.
"Embrace it. Be 'Mum'. Help her with her food and with opening her presents - she will find it reassuring and calming. Contradicting her will make her feel agitated and confused."
Young children seem to take it all in their stride. However, teenagers can find it upsetting. "Not being recognised or seeing out-of-character behaviour can sometimes be confusing, embarrassing and hurtful," adds Mears-Owen.
She suggests talking the issue over together as a family before Christmas, and also recommends Matthew Snyman's book The Dementia Diaries (available from Amazon), which follows four young people dealing with their grandparents' dementias.
Christmas Eve is the time to start tapping into family traditions. Mears-Owen says: "If you prepare your vegetables on Christmas Eve night, encourage your loved one to take part. They will feel useful and it can start conversations about Christmases past. Reminiscence is vital to increasing wellbeing and something we do across our 114 care homes. Get them talking about their childhood Christmases as well as yours."
Dementia can take a toll on verbal communication skills. "Music is a great way to connect with someone, as well as being fun," says Mears-Owen. "Even if they cannot sing, they can enjoy tapping out a rhythm and joining in, so why not try a carol service or sing along with a CD?"
Christmas mornings can be frenetic, especially if there are young children in the house. Set aside a quiet and comfortable place for your relative. "The hurly-burly of present opening, noisy toys and over-excited youngsters can prove too much for someone whose senses have changed," Mears-Owen explains.
"To avoid confusion and anxiety, offer your relative a cup of tea away from the chaos and, if they want it, sit with them and chat."
The centrepiece of Christmas is the family lunch. Ann Saunders, a Care UK operational director with a personal interest in nutrition in older people, says: "Dementia can take away depth perception and narrow the field of vision, so keep things fairly clear.
Hand out crackers when you are going to pull them, limit the amount of crockery and cutlery on the table and use a tablecloth that contrasts with the plates. White-on-white blends in and the person will not know where the plate ends and the cloth begins.
"I find a blue or bright yellow plate works best: the meal stands out as there is very little food in those colours. Do not use plates with patterns as these can cause optical illusions and confusion.
"Try not crowding the plate," she adds. "Appetites are small and lots of food adds to confusion. Keep the meat in one section of the plate, the carbs in another and the vegetables separate. It is attractive and clear.
"Taste buds age and older people often develop a sweet, sour or savoury tooth to compensate. Try adding lemon or lime for that extra zing, use plenty of fresh herbs and try adding a teaspoon of honey to the water you cook the carrots in. The most important thing is that everyone indulges in their favourite foodie treats throughout the day."