Friday, April 23, 2010

Visiting Mom-- an Unexpected Gift: a Guide for Visiting Elders with Alzheimer’s, by Sherry M. Bell

Sherry Bell discovered that she was running out of things to talk about with her mother, an Alzheimer’s patient, just two weeks after she had moved her into an Alzheimer’s unit. This horrifying discovery and all that had gone before inspired her to write this book.

Bell suddenly saw “visiting Mom is a beautiful gift…. I could hate Mom’s Alzheimer’s and be filled with the resentment, grief and destructive misery of a helpless victim, or I could accept her situation as an invitation to create a new, loving environment for her.”

Often making a hospital visit is awkward, even when the sick person is awake and aware. When the person has a dementia, then the familiar ways of communicating are not there. Brain damage from dementia is not predictable; my mother reads constantly. Her Scrabble game, which was good, is better than ever, but her once excellent math skills, as well as her memory and mobility have diminished. Reading and math skills are in different parts of the brain. Abilities and memory may temporarily change from day to day, or from morning until night—“good days” and “bad days.”

All this requires new ways of communicating with your loved one, and finding new ways for improving your visits. Sherry Bell describes seven “barriers” to making the most of your time with your loved one. Using examples from her own experiences and observation, she also suggests how to adapt to the changes and remove the barriers.
Bell had a great relationship with her mother, but not everyone does. She calls the seventh barrier “Shadow Boxing,” dealing with the issues in your past relationship. Successfully removing this barrier “depends on arriving at a place of peace within ourselves.”

Having, as she states earlier, cleaned her own house, Bell then provides concrete ways to make visits better. These include simple things such as touching your loved one as well as structuring your visits so that your loved one gets accustomed to a routine. Arts and crafts, including making a memory scrapbook with mom, allow you to share meaningful time together. Mom can look at the scrapbook when you’re away and remember the events depicted.

Bell’s “Eight Great Habits,” “Five Arts and Crafts,” and “Ten Visiting Guides” are full of ideas for planning visits. Since reading Visiting Mom I’ve tried a few of her ideas. Now when I visit Mom we both end up laughing and smiling, instead of having nothing to say or being irritable. Just sitting close to her or holding her hand, or trying to tickle her leg makes a big difference .

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