I recently visited my husband at the long term care facility where he now resides and I was impressed by his latest creative work of art. This time he had all of the things out of his bathroom cupboard, his mouthwash, hair brush, plastic glass, soap and toothbrush arranged in an interesting manner on the counter by the sink in the small “kitchenette” area of his room.
It looked like a small city scape, I thought, with the brush acting like some kind of bridge between the glass and the soap. The mouthwash had the toothbrush carefully balanced horizontally on it in the background.
“Well this is nice” I said. “Why is all of this out here?”
I received the usual response, which was really no response, as he cannot effectively articulate what he was trying to do with the items. This was not the first time I have arrived to find modern day sculptures around his room. Often the Styrofoam cups and plates that snacks arrive on are stacked in an interesting and sometimes gravity defying pile on the headboard of his bed. The toilet paper rolls and the paper towel rolls (full ones and empty ones) always seem to need to be balanced upon one another in a precarious manner.
My husband has vascular dementia and that has robbed him of the ability to remember his friends and family. He knows that I am his wife, I think, but he does not remember my name. After caring for him for several years at our home it became a matter of safety for him and sanity for me that he be moved into a long term care facility.
He had wanted to be an architect when he was young but circumstances led his to being an accountant for over 40 years. I can only guess that the creative part of his mind now wants to express itself when other forms of communication have become difficult.
He also amuses himself by re-arranging the various stuffed animals that occupy his room. There are two stuffed dogs – a black and white one that has long ears and a small white poodle replica. These dogs are often in unique positions and are sometimes on the bed in the middle and sometimes they are tucked into the top. The smaller poodle dog can be found whispering into the larger dog’s ear or on occasion it is the other way around. The dogs may be sitting back to back on some days or they might be in a face to face position. They are usually on the small table that is in the corner of the room and my husband encourages me to say hello to them when I enter the room. He often asks me what their names are and I tell him that their names are Spot and Fifi.
Recently the dogs have been joined by a hand knit bear that is sporting a pair or red pants and a multi coloured sweater. The bear does not seem to interact with the dogs but rather enjoys sitting on his own chair or sometimes he is on the headboard of the bed. I have no idea where the bear came from but he seems to be a permanent resident now. I now have to state his name each time I arrive – I have decided to call him “Beary”.
I find it quite amazing that he is able to entertain himself this way when there are so many other things he can no longer do. I would never have thought that he would have anything to do with stuffed animals as I am sure his sense of masculinity would have precluded that when he did not have this disease.
My husband does not want to interact with the other residents doing crafts or exercises but he does seem to like his activity of using items in his control to build structures. He shows no interest in the Legos or the Lincoln logs out in the common area.
If you have someone in care I would recommend that you try to find something in the creative vein that they might like to do. It could be as simple as putting photos in and out of the photo album with the pockets that you slide pictures into easily. If you have photos of family members or things that the resident likes such as golf pictures, landscapes or cityscapes, dogs or cats or perhaps certain types of cars. It might help to write on the back of each picture in large printing who or what the pictures are. A fun activity could be to sort out all of the people pictures from the pet pictures.
Perhaps when you visit you can empty out a drawer and the two of you can fold the clothes and organize them and put them back in the drawer. I know that my husband is a very tidy folder and we can spend some time getting that task done. It seems to give him a sense of accomplishment.
I also have brought a target and some bean bags that you can throw through the holes in the target. We do not keep track of the points but it is always fun to see how far away we can put the target and hit the holes with the bean bags. Even more interesting is finding the bean bags for this activity since they sometimes end up in very different places from where they were last placed. A good game of “Hunting for the Bean Bags” usually starts this activity.
If you have a person who used to like to knit then a large ball of wool and large needles could be brought in and the first couple of rows done on a simple knitting pattern, I saw a show where a person got all kinds of seniors in care facilities making squares of knitting and she then felted those squares and made them into purses and other things.
On my next trip I plan to bring in some poker chips that are various colours and have them all mixed together in the box and ask that my husband sort them out into the proper colours on the rack they go in.
If you have a person that you care about in a long term care facility with dementia then I would encourage you to try to find their creative side. It may surprise you to find out how they can still be imaginative. Dementia may have robbed their mind of many things but it seems it cannot quite put out the spark of creativity.
You can learn more about Lee’s experience caring for her husband in Dementia in the Family.