Hospital auxiliaries, seniors reminded to laugh

Christopher
Christopher Gooding
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Games, engagement fend off dementia but not forever

SPRINGHILL – It’s not easy becoming a senior. In fact, it’s hard.

VON Fonda Hutchinson exhibits one the interactive Simple Pleasures crafts for persons with Alzheimer’s, which is used to engage their mind and add some creativity to their day.

The Northern Regional Hospital Auxiliaries met in Springhill in May to discuss the business of helping hospitals and guest speakers Dianne Arden, education and outreach coordinator for the Colchester-Cumberland County Alzheimer’s Society, and Victorian Order of Nurses’ Fonda Hutchinson added a round of laughter to the trying times of becoming elderly.

Arden and Hutchinson coordinated the Simple Pleasures– and arts project that offers tactile creations to engage Alzheimer patients’ motor and memory skills – and introducing the project to the audience from Tatamagouche, Truro, Amherst and Springhill was the first indication Arden planned on using her quick wit and humour to engage everyone’s brains during the presentation.

“If you Google it, make sure you out in ‘for Alzheimer’s,’ because I made the mistake of just [searching for] ‘simple pleasure,’” Arden said.

Once on the right website, people can learn about the 23 different crafts and projects that can easily be made to engage Alzheimer’s patients, some of which the Springhill All Saints Hospital Auxiliary have already made – through a wellness grant from the community health board. Activity aprons with zippers and pockets, beach balls covered with pictures of Elvis, and plastic bags filled with sand and toys that reveal themselves as the sand is moved around seem simple enough, but what they offer is mental stimulation, Arden explained. For Alzheimer’s patients, the number one enemy to their wellbeing is idle time.

“In long-term care, 60 to 70 per cent of their waking time, there’s nothing to do. And if you can’t get attention with positive behavior, you go for negative. So, three minutes doing something with someone every day makes for a meaningful day,” Arden said.

A “grey tsunami” is approaching Nova Scotia, Arden said, and much of the province is working towards it now. The province is poised to have its hands full with seniors in the next 30 years and efforts are being made now to understand more and accommodate those with dementia in preparation for that future.

“We really need to know the difference between normal aging and the early onset of dementia… dementia is a cluster of symptoms during the deterioration of the brain,” Arden said. “2,000 people in the province with early onset are under the age of 55. The youngest is 29. Anyone can get it. The older you get, the more opportunities to get it. It’s not everybody, but we hear about it.”

Memory loss is the more familiar symptom of Alzheimer’s and dementia, but three major concerns follow: wandering, incontinence and challenging behaviours.

And challenging behaviours can mean challenges for families and loved ones to understand and offer empathy during this stage of life.

“A person with Alzheimer’s, their brain is broken. It’s brain failure,” Arden said. “You wouldn’t go to someone with heart failure and say ‘Act better.’ But with brain failure, people will argue with them.”

It will be a struggle living with Alzheimer’s, or living with someone who is diagnosed with a form of dementia, but Arden and Hutchinson offered up advice to stem the tide of time: eat well – look to clean diets like Mediterranean or East Indian dishes; exercise often – what’s good for the heart is good for the mind; and laugh often. 

To learn more about Simple Pleasures visit: http://www.recreationtherapy.com/re-simp.htm.

Organizations: Simple Pleasures, Northern Regional Hospital Auxiliaries, Colchester-Cumberland County Alzheimer Springhill All Saints Hospital Auxiliary

Geographic location: Springhill, Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia

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