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Alzheimer's Caregiving Dementia

5 Tips to Encourage Wonder in Those Living with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Caring for another human being is hard work and extremely complicated. There are so many things you have to consider including daily chores, family responsibilities, healthcare, respite, and self-care. Who has time to play? Or how do you encourage wonder in those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia? First let’s define wonder. Google defines wonder as, “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.” Or as a verb, “desire or be curious to know something.”

Wonder is exactly what I saw in the faces of seniors living with Alzheimer’s and dementia in memory care communities when I first introduced LEGODuplo bricks and pieces to them. The majority of my clients were in the mid- to late stages of the disease. When I hand them a mini figure (LEGO people) or accessory, they aren’t sure what they are seeing at first, then they focus on the cute faces and accessories and they smile. Your job with this activity is to show them how they connect, teach them how to make silly characters, or build things they recognize and see the laughter and joy begin.

Please keep in mind, you simply can’t put LEGO bricks and pieces in front of the elderly and expect them to know what to do with it. You have to create a space for them to feel safe and encourage curiosity, be willing to try something new, be open-minded and vulnerable. It’s easier than it sounds. Let me explain how it works.

  1. Create a Safe Space – you need a large flat surface with plain single color cloth or single color surface. A busy tablecloth will distract from the colors and figures the bricks have to offer. The pieces will literally be lost to them. I had one community set out a LEGO tablecloth with the best of intentions but some of the residents kept trying to pick up the pieces from the tablecloth print. Make it easy for them to see the pieces they have to choose from. Lay out all the pieces for them. Make it easy for them to see everything all at once. Remember kids will dig through a bucket to find a piece, seniors will not.
  2. Encourage curiosity – music is a great way to help your caree (the person you are caring for) feel good and engage with you and this activity. Find the music they grew up listening to. It’s usually the music they listened to in their late teens, early twenties. Play this music while you introduce them to building and watch them smile, sing and possibly dance in their chairs. Music has been shown to work very well with those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. LEGO’s innate system of play encourages curiosity and the music sets up the mood.
  3. Be willing to try something new – introducing Duplo bricks and pieces to the elderly might seem strange at first. When I began this program in 2017, I wasn’t sure if it would work. It was a huge success! The administrators from various communities would tell me their residents were happier even days after our activity ended. Most asked me to come back on a weekly basis. So I recommend doing this activity at least once a week. We found that the people we worked with found a sense of purpose, meaning and agency from building. It gave them the ability to express themselves. Some build towers, others build with one color or sort the pieces into colors or like pieces, and others would fill baseplates, decorate buildings or scenes with people and animals. Check out #MyFavoriteDuplo on my Instagram (@MoBrickz) or TikTok (@BrickByBrickBonding) to see my favorite pieces when working with seniors living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  4. Be open-minded – unconscious bias is a thing and unfortunately some people think that a child’s toy or playing is somehow ageist. I respectfully disagree. I believe playing is how we express ourselves and figure out the world around us. For those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia who struggle to find the right words can use an activity like this to create a sense of wonder again. Those 80 and above might not be familiar with LEGO bricks and pieces and that’s okay. I can help you find the right kit and introduce this activity to your loved one. You too can gain a sense of wonder building with LEGO bricks and pieces if you stay open-minded and see all the possibilities LEGO building has to offer.
  5. Be vulnerable – the beauty of building with LEGO bricks and pieces is that there is no right or wrong when building. Putting two pieces together is a success. I’ve had many carees try to put the pieces together backwards. I used to correct them and it made them anxious and angry. Instead give them the space to keep trying. I have found that most of them don’t give up. Sometimes, they might put a piece down and try another piece or they simply keep trying. I admire that so much! It’s especially satisfying to see someone struggle for a few minutes and then figure it out. I usually exclaim, “Yay! You figured out how the pieces fit together, congratulations! You did a good job!” This always brings a smile to their face. I mean who doesn’t like to be praised when we find a solution to a problem?

Brick By Brick Bonding™ was created to help caregivers and their carees find joy and wonder. This revolutionary activity gives those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia meaning, purpose, and agency. Create a safe space to add joy to you and your caree’s life, add your loved one’s favorite music to encourage curiosity, be willing to try something new to find your sense of wonder, be open-minded and try new things, and be vulnerable because you never know what amazing connections you will make.

Patty Sherin

Patty Sherin is a lover of the brick. Patty shares her love of LEGOⓇ bricks and pieces with kids, adults and seniors to develop their creativity and express themselves. Patty has encouraged seniors living with dementia to build with LEGO bricks and pieces as a way to bring out joy and laughter. Prior to the pandemic Patty worked with Memory Care Communities. Now she shares what she’s learned with family caregivers. As a Certified Caregiver Consultant and creator of Brick By Brick Bonding™ she understands the fatigues and challenges that plague caregivers and has found strategies to help throughout the caregiving journey. Follow us on Instagram – @mobrickz, Twitter – @mo_brickz, TikTok – @BrickByBrickBonding or visit us @ https://mobrickz.com

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Alzheimer's Caregiving Community

Books Can Make the Difference on the Alzheimer’s Caregiver’s Journey

Reading often closely follows our personal progression in life. As we mature and our interests and life situations change and develop, so do our reading patterns.

My progression began with nursery rhymes and Golden Books that filled my imagination, then came Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, who fueled my ambitions, followed by the requisite period of academia preparing me for “real life.” By the time I reached adulthood, my attention turned to the New York Times Bestseller List, and the occasional beach book.

For some, reading will become a way of life as they devour books; for others, a lovely, welcome pastime; for the esoteric, an experience or quest for advanced knowledge, and for a few, a necessity when an unknown arises. If you are a caregiver, no matter where you fall on the spectrum, reading will become your source of knowledge, your advisor, your friend, and your savior in those lost moments.

Having always been a reader it was inevitable I would turn to books upon the diagnosis of my husband’s early-onset Alzheimer’s. Books are what helped me make sense of an almost untenable situation, answered questions when there seemed to be no answers, provided direction in a sea of darkness, and helped me not feel so adrift. For those of you who are not readers or are occasional readers, I can assure you books, podcasts, and blogs will serve you well.

When I was a caregiver, AlzAuthors, the global community of authors writing about dementia from personal experience,  did not exist. But if it did, I can tell you with great certainty that my foray into the genre of caregiving books would begin with my urgent need to understand what I was dealing with. 

That was not an easy task at that time, as there was a myriad of books out there to sort through and decipher, almost as overwhelming as the disease itself. Thank goodness today for the AlzAuthors Bookstore, whose vast collection is sorted out by categories, enabling the reader to quickly hone in on specific needs at specific times.

If I were a new caregiver today, I would head right to the Caregiver Guides Section to peruse the selections in search of information and understanding about Alzheimer’s, followed by checklists and to-do guides to help me through the initial shock and start me on the caregiver path. Under Memoirs I would look for stories to inspire, illuminate, support, and help me not feel so alone.

One of the things I would be thankful for is the now firsthand information on early-onset dementia, something that was missing years ago. The honesty of the authors combined with their various coping methods helps readers feel less judgmental about themselves and their situation.

On a self-indulgent whim, I would purchase books under the Fiction category to go on a much-needed escape. And since I wouldn’t have much time to read (what caregiver has time?), the AlzAuthors blog is a real gift.

When one is dealing with a catastrophic illness, the sense of isolation, be it physical, mental, social, or emotional, can be daunting and overwhelming. It is no wonder some caregivers suffer various degrees of depression or feel isolated as their world shrinks in so many ways. The gift of reading helps to alleviate some of that by sharing other perspectives, and imparting knowledge.

While it is not a replacement for actual friends or family, reading is a wonderful substitute that is always there and available. The vast range of knowledge from clinical, to checklists and facts, to personal, all covering the range from diagnosis till the end, is what allows caregivers to stay on the path and complete their journey intact. Preparation and knowledge are among the top skills any caregiver can possess.

I am grateful to all the authors who accompanied me on my journey, whose dog-eared pages sat faithfully on my nightstand, whose eBooks and audiobooks let me read during those times when I had so little time. To be provided with such comfort, knowledge, direction, and insight was truly an invaluable gift.

About the Author

Susan’s background reflects her versatility. A wife, mother, grandmother, she has also been a schoolteacher, a realtor, a sales professional, a corporate trainer, a counselor, and a consultant and speaker on various aspects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. She holds a master’s degree in counseling and human resource development. She is the author of My Life Rearranged, a contributor to AlzAuthors.com, and a caregiver advocate.

Connect with Susan G.Miller

Website: AlzheimerCaregiverAdvocate.com

Amazon page

AlzAuthors Page

Ambassador and contributor to The Caregiver Connection on Facebook