DIMENSIONS Spring 1998


by Josselyn Winslow

Note: Each issue of Dimensions features a contribution from one of the Alzheimer s groups in Washington. This article is reprinted with permission from the Alzheimer Society of Washington.

Recently, a group of people--some with Alzheimer's disease, some caregivers, and some community volunteers--came together to have FUN. When they first arrived, the person with dementia and his or her caregiver were paired together with volunteers who helped them make "stress-reducing" balloons (a hand squeezing device). They took empty balloons, filled them with barley, and knotted them. Each couple made two so they could exercise both hands. Of course, in the process some of the barley spilled, but there were a lot of laughs while everyone gathered around the project.

Next, the group moved to a circle of chairs. With the instruction of a volunteer leader, the caregivers and people with dementia did a series of easy sitting exercises. They made movements similar to rowing a boat, rolled their ankles and they did neck rolls. The group then moved to another table where with the help of a caregiver, each person with dementia colored a butterfly tracing and matted it. It was a simple project, but it gave people with dementia an opportunity to be successful at making a picture they could take home. The bright lights were then turned off, and a set of tiny white lights were used to give the room a more peaceful quality. Soft music was played, and bayberry candles were lit to add fragrance to the room. The volunteers served a snack: sherbet in cones, fancy cookies and hot tea. While everyone was eating, a volunteer read a simple story about a kitty, and passed a stuffed animal around so everyone could feel how soft kitties are.

After the treats and the story, fresh herbs were passed around--rosemary, thyme, mint,sage and lemon grass. The volunteers asked the caregivers and people with dementia to rub the leaves to release the distinctive odors. The volunteers asked them what each smell reminded them of. This brought comments about sausage and mint juleps. The final activity for the evening was a demonstration of different kinds of hugs. The people with dementia, their caregivers, and some of the volunteers then shared hugs. When they were getting ready to leave, the people with dementia were given their balloons, butterfly pictures and a few sprigs of the herbs. The caregivers were given several handouts about taking care of themselves, simple exercises, herbs, and different kinds of hugs. They were thanked for coming and told that next month's activity would be basic massage.

The concept for the "Alzheimer Club" came about when a representative of the Alzheimer Society of Washington' (ASW) and a staff member of Disabled Sports Northwest began to talk about recreational opportunities for people with disabilities. The second move to explore recreational activities came when the Northwest Geriatric Education Center offered a special program designed to develop training modules about issues affecting seniors. The Center was open to those who agreed to present new educational activity in their own communities. ASW decided to use this challenge to move our ideas about recreational activity to reality.

In developing our recreation plan, we brought together representatives from several organizations including parks and recreation, an adult day health program, hospital rehabilitation staff, Disabled Sports Northwest, VA of Puget Sound, and our Alzheimer Society. The original plan was to have a single full day program, like a day camp, but as the idea developed, the concept shifted from a single event to a series of monthly meetings, each with a theme.

In past meetings, we have had singing and dancing, blown bubbles, made instruments, and enjoyed a variety of snacks from Valentines cookies, to tiny hot dogs and somores. Although there are three more meetings before we have a final evaluation of our experimental program, we believe it has been a positive experience for people with dementia, beneficial for the caregivers, educational for the volunteers and, most important, FUN for all of us.

For more information about the ALZHEIMER CLUB, contact Alzheimer Society of Washington: PO Box 4104, Bellingham, WA 98227. (360)671-3316.

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