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Diversion! Change the subject.  Distract them.  Good suggestions to anyone who is the caregiver of victims with Alzheimer’s disease.  In so many ways AD patients are much like children except people with AD are regressing and children are happily moving forward. One experience is filled with joy and the other is filled with sadness as a loved one leaves us one memory loss at a time.  Yet we, as caregivers, continue on – striving to do our best, seeking advice, often relying on our own years of experience — even dipping back into useful techniques from long ago when life was fresh and our children new.

When the little ones were naughty, had tantrums or got into things such as managing to grab Great Grandmother’s bone China tea-cup, you made every effort to change their focus: distract them, divert their attention, or trade a bright, shiny ball for the family heirloom.  At times there was success, and other times there was limited or no success at all.  The same variables are evident when working with AD patients.

There are times when a scrap of memory triggered by some kind of distraction or recollection can change a mood, take their mind away from destroying the TV, or at least turn their interest from stripping the back of all the wires, to something else. Other times you can make them an offer they can’t refuse (which generally doesn’t work because most severe AD patients are beyond reason) or, in desperation, you can pack up every movable object in the home and box it up – for later – whenever that is.  However, just as with toddlers and young children, problems aren’t always solved by “putting things away,” especially when your challenger is tall and strong.

Even more difficult, though, is directing the loved one into going somewhere, or doing something he doesn’t necessarily want to do – especially if it involves keeping him on a halfway-acceptable schedule.

In our house, and unlike our babies and toddlers, shower time (bath time for babies) is not Ken’s favorite thing to do, although it might be if he could remember how he once enjoyed a good hot shower.  Understandably, I believe this particular territory of “personal” hygiene is his last bastion of independence, and I can’t say that I blame him, but it’s also something where he needs a little help and guidance from his caregivers and me.

I have written before about how music does soothe the “savage beast,” and how there have been times when Ken’s mind seemed to relax and clear a little as we listened to sounds of the “Big Bands” on PBS.  Our music and even music into the 60s has filled a few of our evenings with good memories during this time of so much loss.  For me it seems so logical, so reasonable that familiar melodies from the past can work magic through the muck of a diseased mind.  I am convinced music can and does help if only on a temporary basis.  Recently, I thought I would give it a try during shower time.

With my husband a former Navy man during his very young years and WWII (with extended loyalties to the Marines because of his father’s service years) I began humming a few of the marching songs during morning cleanup.  The 4/4 timing, I thought, might be of help as Ben and I guided Ken toward the bathroom and through his routine.  Furthermore, I reminded him of his waiting “dress blues,” the parade grounds, and how important it was that he be ready to join the other men already marching.

All of this military-type music was worked in with my chatty talk about his service years, his father, the Leathernecks, and Dad’s eight years in China.  Possibly, the familiar rhythms struck a chord deep inside his muddled brain because he seemed a little calmer, and while he didn’t speak of his father, he did convey a few unrelated sentences in a pleasant, conversational manner.

He also seemed to respond to Anchors Aweigh – with me singing what I had learned in Mrs. Mahoney’s “Music I” class to show our support for all of our fighting men during the Big War.  Directing his attention to a navy blue sweat suit I asked if those were his dress blues and was he ready to hit the parade grounds as soon as we were finished.  Using no words, his look was one of positive response, and the best part was he was calm.

Encouraged, I continued with my daily melodies often falling back on John Phillip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” whenever there was a lull and Ken’s attention began to wane.  Too difficult to hum, my voice instrument (Mrs. Mahoney said my voice had ranges in the key of flat) entered into the “da – da – da da daaa – da da daaa – da da da – da da da — da da daaaaa — da……”   I even sang the words I had learned as a youth about being kind to our web-footed friends, for the duck may be somebody’s mother…… which seemed to amuse Ben, who, up to that point, hadn’t commented on my latest effort of introducing music into our routine.

I have now branched out — for several reasons.  Monotony can become very irritating.  I doubt that Ken remembers any of yesterday’s happenings, but I need our caregiver, Ben, to also remain calm, cool and collected.  So my morning rendition is more of a medley of many unrelated songs which has become a part of my singing/talk conversation including, “Good morning to you, good morning to you…. using the tune of Happy Birthday.  “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” from the musical Oklahoma came to mind as my memory door opened to dozens of other songs from long ago.  When Ken’s eyes or attitude tell me to stop – to divert – I do — and then I talk for a while – striving to be upbeat and encouraging.

Do I believe the variety of old familiar music (including marches) helps?  Being reminded every morning of something from his past may have pulled up shadows of memory. If nothing else, I do believe it helps him change his focus, even to the point where today he sang a few “Good mornings” back to me.  Does positive reinforcement help?  It all remains to be seen, but what I do know for certain is that the experience is a diversion, and anything that can change unpleasant into at least tolerable, or better, is a good thing.

Diversion worked with our babies.  All the while we splashed them with tepid water we cooed and smiled and whispered sweet words of encouragement and affection, and they responded with equal coos and wonderful toothless smiles.  It wasn’t much different as they grew a little older, and I checked out small ears after a day in the sandbox.  I had my own sing-songy song to tell about their dirty ears:  “Car rots, po ta toes, cu cum bers and squash; A veg’ ta ble gar dens in your ears by gosh. “And they responded with laughter, shiny faces and  smiles filled with baby teeth.

So when our loved ones become old and sick, isn’t it beneficial – and kind — to muster up a bunch more patience, a few silly songs, cheering marches with John Phillips Sousa, and – yes – an extra splash of love to help them through this very difficult time in their life?  I have also found that – sometimes — especially when I smile at him – he may give me a broad, warm and wonderful smile in return — just like the one he gave me the night we met.  That’s a diversion for me as well, and a reward.

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