Expect a lot of references to Silver Dollar City, one of my truly favorite places on Earth, in this week’s Digital Cornbread snacks. I was treated with a trip to the park Saturday and spent the day having fun while lamenting that mom couldn’t be there with us all the while. Pete and Jack Herschend, with their Herschend Family Entertainment organization, have fought to keep their parks authentic, familiar and fun while other, similar parks have chased rabbits (and money) and drifted into areas that have left them no longer a theme park, but just a place to ride rides. My family and I loved our time there last Saturday yet again. 🙂
This week’s slightly shoehorned dementia reference derived from my week has to do with change and the struggles within. Silver Dollar City’s setting and theme is intimately tied to the 80s and its music, food, life and entertainment. We are NOT talking Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Aqua Net hair and the like…try the 1880s on for size instead. The sights, the sounds, the smells and the whole atmosphere of the park is 1880s to its DNA and every effort is made to stress theme as anything is added and/or subtracted. You won’t see astronauts nor hippies in the displays, the signs, and the like, but instead you will see craftsmen, entertainers in costume, animals, rides with authentic themes and a truly simpler time. Sure the work was much harder and there was little except God, friends and family to depend on, but life in the 1880s was not the complex, steaming cow pile we live in now. I really think this “simple” aspect of the 1880s is where our two completely disconnected topics start to converge.
Dementia patients hate change. Change is complex and the desperately need simple. Change messes up their whole day. They are typically struggling to remember the basics of day-to-day living and the wrench in the works caused by mixing things up makes it even worse. Unlike you and me who struggle sometimes with change because it is inconvenient or just uncomfortable, a patient with a bound-up memory struggles with change because they are clinging desperately to the familiar.
A few examples of how mom and the Sweet 17 deal with change:
- Mom used to carry everything she could around with her out of fear someone would change its location by innocently putting it in her room.
- Mom used to pace the halls looking for somewhere that was familiar and would “get in trouble” for trying to leave while she was really only trying to find familiar things…like home.
- Baths were a source of anxiety for mom and changing bathing nurses made mom try to draw from compromised resources to determine if this was safe for her. Being naked in front of a stranger is NOT natural to anyone. We learn this after out toddler years and it becomes a primary memory that is hard to shake.
- Mom’s default answer to a question is “I don’t know” unless the number 5,280 is appropriate. This is simpler than forging a path through the giant squid of disconnections that is her neural network.
The search for the familiar and away from change is so critical for mom and most of the Sweet 17 that they will cling to whatever is familiar at all costs. When they are seeming Missouri Mule stubborn about something you are working with them on, don’t lose heart nor get mad. They are truly courageously trying to make it from point A to Point B the hard way, with very few points of references that we take for granted and use every day in our decision-making. They bravely seek familiar safety in uniquely unusual or sometimes even unsafe ways in doing so, not unlike this poster I found at the log plume ride at SDC.
So I leave you with a simple thought/experiment. When talking with your later stage loved one, keep it simple and try to tread on familiar paths and use words that they already use. Don’t introduce new words and ideas unless you can tie them to something they already understand. Speak slowly and clearly and repeat often. Watch for non-verbal cues and don’t be afraid to repeat something yet again. With mom, if I can find some common ground by repeating something she said, it seems to relax her and it helps her see that I am trying and that I care. When speech hops on the mule and jumps off the cliff, I jump too with a few of the words and we just laugh it off. I may even throw in a familiar raspberry that she repeats back at me with a belly laugh. She seems to “reset” sometimes when I do that. I guess my point is don’t give up and don’t stop empathizing with their need for the simple and familiar. There are no shortcuts and sometimes you cliff dive. 😉
Had a nice visit with mom and my stepdad on Father’s day. My stepdad said “Brenda, you sure have a lot of folks who love you here!” I added “Heck, mom, we’re four in your top ten favorites here” with a grin. She smiled and pointed and said “9” to me. 🙂 I responded with a noisy raspberry and a laugh, and she reciprocated.
Hey, at least I made the list. 😉
Note: Full moon this week. Sigh…that makes for some interesting times at the memory unit.