Mom and I dig watching The Andy Griffith Show when I visit. It hasn’t always been this way. We used to go for walks, sit on the couch and visit or sometimes just sit around by the piano and have a howler monkey jam session. (Mom plays almost pretty enough to drown out the sounds coming from my gullet.). Seventeen months of late stage mixed dementia later and our most productive time is just hanging out, seeing what Barney Fife is up to now.
Barney Fife, the deputy of Mayberry, was played masterfully by the late Don Knotts, certainly one of my very favorite actors. Barney was quite the Yosemite Sam, if you will, with his gun. The only time his gun discharged was either at his foot, at his car or in the sky, all by accident. Ultimately, Sheriff Andy was forced to require Barney keep his bullet in his pocket lest someone get hurt accidentally. Watching the deputy’s hjinks (and the rest) in Mayberry again the other day made me ponder whether there was something we can learn. How about these 10 bullets for your pocket?:
10 Things You Can Learn about Dementia from Watching The Andy Griffith Show
- Have each other’s back. Sure, Andy would occasionally get frustrated with Barney, but it seldom showed. As fast as Barney would accidentally let the bad guy escape or lock himself into the jail cell, Andy would typically save the day and allow Barney to save face in the process. In dementia care, we need a team, sure. However, we need a loyal team who will have each other’s back day and night. I wish it was as easy to do as it is to say, but, from reading countless social posts, more experience letdowns than loyal help. Lead by example. Offer short, easy wins of tasks to gain buy-in from your team. Be gracious and thankful and do the best with what you have, knowing that things will get better.
- Always check your boat for holes. Andy’s and Opie’s little fishing boat was known to need to be bailed out now and then. They were prepared and always made it back to shore. When a notorious criminal stole their boat in one episode, he was unaware that the little thing would take on water…and it sunk, as did his escape. Diligence versus apathy. When you decide that you can care for your loved one at home, a super commendable ministry, check the place over very well for hazards. Here is an outstanding page on the Alz.org website outlining some solid safety tips for making your home safe: Link Here is a more general page: Link A couple things I would add: Post the 24/7 Helpline phone number a few places where it is always available. (800.272.3900). Consider the merits of GPS tracking if your loved one wanders. You simply cannot be awake and fully aware 24/7/366. These are better than taking a chance. Also contact your local Area Agency on Aging for help making your home a safer place. They offer several programs regarding safety and fall prevention.
- Otis is not a perfect example, but he sure is funny. Otis was the town drunk. I don’t think that is a slanderous thing to say as he would have said as much about himself. One thing about old Otis is he tried his best to stay safe and take care of himself. He always stumbled his way to the jail and let himself in, then locked the door behind himself. While I am not advocating treating caregiver stress with alcohol, I am advocating treating caregiver stress…. You simply must take care of yourself! If you let yourself get sick, your ability to care for your loved one will be hindered. Sadly, many, many caregivers do such a poor job in this area that their loved one outlives them. This area is another one that an Area Agency on Aging can help with. They offer wellness classes and stress reduction seminars and courses.
- Music, sweet music! The Andy Griffith show featured many, many guest stars, a decent hunk of whom were famous (in the time) musicians. Of course, Andy sang and played some sweet guitar as well. Music always seemed to make the already great even better in this idyllic little hamlet. Music can also help you in caregiving, as you likely know. Period music…music from your loved one’s formative years, is a great place to start, especially when things are not as idyllic. In mom’s nursing home, it never ceases to amaze me when the Sweet 17 would gather around mom and sing. Some…several of them were mostly nonverbal until the singing started. It is a sweet and beautiful thing to behold and seems to have a calming effect if it is played at the right volume.
- The kids are watching. Little Opie, played masterfully by now director Ron Howard, was a main character in many episodes. It seemed like he was always learning good, and sometimes bad lessons. Regardless, he was always watching. When you are a sandwich generation caregiver like me and my siblings, remember, the kids are watching. We (I) haven’t been ideal in this caregiving area, but I am trying to get better. I am hoping that my kids see that family is super important and implant the idea in them that they may someday have many of the same choices that I make on a daily basis now except about me and my bride. I hope they eat the meat and spit out the bones of much of my parenting, just like little Opie did with his diverse advice.
- Always be learning. The Andy Griffith Show seemed to always have lessons to be learned. It taught/supported the Judeo Christian values of grace, humility (sometimes by a bad example), love, forgiveness and patience. Andy always seemed to show wisdom when times were a challenge, but was imperfect as well. There was always something to be learned on the show between the laughs. I wish more shows taught such rather than what they teach now, but I digress. In caregiving, always be learning, both from your own mistakes and from advice from experts.I am not an expert. I do my best, but I have made sooooo many mistakes. However, I have learned more and more as I have went and, in so much as I can point you to good primary and secondary sources, I am pretty reliable in these posts. I am completely open to correction when I say and do the wrong thing because I know that many of you are far more skilled than I am.
- Did I mention grace? Oh, Barney. Barney. Sigh. Always nearly shooting someone, destroying property on accident, and the like. Yet, as bad as he got at his job, Andy always extended grace. Somehow he always stayed employed…and Andy’s closest friend. Are you extending grace, caregiver? First, grace to yourself? We all mess up. We all get frustrated when something gets spilled. Extend grace to everyone around you. It is a freeing feeling because God created us to be forgiving as He is forgiving. Does your loved one say mean things to you? Accuse you of terrible things? Extend grace, knowing that it is the disease talking.
- Pickles aren’t everything. In the highest-rated episode in the show’s run, “The Pickle Story“, normally great cook Aunt Bee reveals a culinary weakness: her pickles. Apparently they are terrible tasting and she doesn’t notice/care. She ends up wanting to enter them into the county fair. Everyone that had tasted these gherkins took action. (I won’t spoil this one for you…). Mom was a fairly good cook growing up, but cooked many things that I would grimace at the sight of. (Liver, chicken livers, etc…). However, once dementia stepped in and stole her ability to taste correctly, if you will, she started mixing foods. This is something you might be prepared for if you are squeamish like I am. Maybe I have a bit of psychosis in this area, but watching mom mix unrelated foods was hard for me to deal with until empathy finally overrode my gag reflex. Tastes change. However, when the thinking process and memory suffer, all bets are off in food. Just be prepared.
- The right self-defense can be important at times. Barney apparently failed to learn a critical facet of most martial arts: defense is the best offense. See what I mean:
Aggressive behavior is often a problem in dementia caregiving. I have seen sweet-hearted members of the Sweet 17 take full Mike Tyson swings at the nursing staff over the request to take their plate from the table. Lots could be said in this area. Here are some good tips for dealing with an aggressive/combative loved one: Link Link Link Link Link Link
See if you can find an obvious trigger/cause of agitation. (Toileting issue? Noise? Stress? Unmet needs?) Step back and empathize, don’t confront/escalate. Lower your voice. Smile. Bring peace into the situation. Diversion or a change in activity. Music may also help. Lots more ideas in the links. Teepa Snow has several videos about this topic too.
- Sometimes you have to let the caged bird fly. In one of my favorite episodes, Opie the Birdman, tender-hearted but all-boy Opie slingshots a bird to death. Little did he know, this assault left a nest full of orphans. Andy warned against such, but Opie did it anyway. When Andy showed Opie the little birds in the nest, he decided to make amends by bottle feeding the little things and raising them himself. Ultimately, in a very sweet scene, Opie, with the help of his dad, realizes it is time to let them go. The final dialog:
Opie: The cage sure looks awful empty, don’t it, Pa?
Andy: Yes son, it sure does…but don’t the trees seem nice and full?
Dementia stinks. I hate it. You hate it. We hate what it has done to our loved ones with a burning passion. We just want them to be restored to how things were. I get it. I feel the same way. But you know, unless a cure is found, we need to start preparing to let them go. It is hard. No more sweet songs and smiles. Their cage may look awful empty, but please realize, Christian friend…the tree of heaven will have another songbird flying its way. Two more from the general population near mom have passed away recently, flying high with the original Sweet 17 that are mostly gone as well. Cages empty, trees full. 🙂
Update: Mom was zonked all day yesterday because the new help didn’t know her schedule. New help always has to be “broken in” to the needs of the patients. It isn’t always their fault. Mom will be better after a good day in routine. I look forward to seeing her tonight.
Diet update: -2.8; -17 since getting back on WW. Easy come, easy go. 😉