by Josselyn Winslow
Have a Good Day – The other day I heard that phrase three times – in the grocery check-out line, at the post office and as I borrowed a book from the library. Have a good day has become a standard, friendly way to end an interaction. The phrase leaves me with a smile. It’s a little phrase, but, in thinking about it, have a good day means to me to enjoy pleasant things as you go through your day. And when it comes to people with memory loss, helping them have a good day can be one of the best techniques caregivers can use.
At the Autumn Alzheimer Society conference, keynote speaker Jolene Brackey spoke eloquently about Creating Moments of Joy. Jolene explained that people affected by Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia live in the moment. Little moments of joy during the day can make a difference in the person’s outlook. As Jolene says in her book, “We are not able to create a perfectly wonderful day with someone who has dementia but it is absolutely attainable to create a perfectly wonderful moment… Five minutes later they won’t remember what you did or said but the feeling you left them with will linger.” And that feeling will make the caregiver’s job easier.
Caregivers who create moments of joy and help people to have a good day adopt techniques that promote and preserve the dignity of a person with memory loss. Families learn that arguing doesn’t work. A daughter described trying to hurry her mother into a sweater before they left for the doctor’s appointment. “Here,” she said holding up the sweater, “put this on.” Her mother clapped down her arms and refused. Realizing her mistake, and remembering that her own tone and attitude could make a difference, the daughter stepped behind her mother and circled back in front of her. Smiling, she held up the sweater and said, “I found your favorite sweater for you to wear today” and her mother cheerfully slipped it on. A wife reported that she walked into the living room and her husband, not recognizing her, said heatedly, “Where’s my wife?” She could have said, “But I am your wife. Don’t you remember we have been married over fifty years?” Instead, she walked out the back door, came in the front door and said, “Hi, Honey, I’m home,” and her husband was glad to see her.
Moyra Jones, creator of the GENTLECARE concept, urges caregivers to let the person with memory loss do as much as they can for themselves. She describes the process of memory loss by relating it to the glass that is half full or half empty. Caregivers who remember what a person used to be able to do grieve the losses and hurry to step in and help the person with tasks. But Moyra reminds us that if we do for someone what they still can do for themselves we take away their pleasure in doing for themselves – and we may keep them from retaining the skills that remain. My mother loved to help in the kitchen but grew increasingly unable to complete a task. I asked her help me with the salad by doing something she could still do – peel the carrots. Although sometimes she peeled a carrot until it was all gone, I learned that the carrot didn’t matter. The important thing was that we made the salad together. She felt good about helping – and that small moment helped her – and me - to have a good day.
Every caregiver can find ways to help someone have a good day. Ask a person for an opinion, or to help out. “Do you suppose my husband will like this tie? Could you carry this package for me?” Look for ways to create moments of joy and help someone have a good day. You’ll find caregiving is easier and that you too will have a good day.