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Lincoln logs

We all enter the world as little tiny people — babies; and right from the near beginning we have reached out with eager little hands for activity spurred on by our insatiable curiosity: something to examine – to touch, to taste, to feel — a challenge to stimulate our brain, to satisfy the inquisitiveness of our growing bodies and minds.  Whether it’s a bevy of plastic birds clipped to the crib, a zoo of stuffed animals to play with or a bridge to build, man has thrived on activity whether it be play or work.

When Ken and I were fairly new grandparents, our daughter left her two sons, John and Peter, with us for the evening.  “What can we do?” was the immediate question.  A closet still filled, at the time, with puzzles, coloring books, board games, cars, trucks and other toys from their younger uncle’s youthful days was the answer. “Here you go,” I said, handing one of them a bag of Lincoln Logs for starters.

Dumping the contents on the floor, the two boys began laying logs in various directions.  With Lincoln logs, though, there is an interconnecting pattern which holds the cabin together.  I helped them fit a few of the pieces and told them they could finish.  After struggling, and having their building fall apart, John said to his grandfather, sitting nearby, “Grandpa, help us build this cabin.”  Grandpa’s interest was more centered on the evening news and tactfully declined.  “Please, help us.  Please, Grandpa, please, please, please.”  With enough intense coaxing, Grandpa reluctantly agreed and in no time the cabin was finished.

With proud satisfaction the two boys tore down and rebuilt the cabin a few more times, soliciting their grandfather’s help, before asking to play with something else.  “But first you have to pick up all the Lincoln logs and put them back in the bag,” I instructed.  “Ahhhh,” was the duet reply.  “Come on,” I insisted, “you played with them and now you have to put them away.”  “Okaaaaayyyyy, but Grandpa played too so he has to help.  Even if the Lincoln logs didn’t hold their attention all evening, their curiosity led them to many new adventures coming from the game closet with instructions, “Play and put away.”

At the other end of the spectrum, activity still remains an important factor on a daily basis, including the lives of those with afflictions found under the Dementia Umbrella. Boredom isn’t good at any age. However, Ken’s level of interest is diminished to almost zero as AD increases in severity; with drive and enthusiasm nonexistent.

My friend Darline’s AD is at mild cognitive loss.  She is fortunate to live with her daughter and her family, and with Darline as Top-Totem on the Totem Pole, there are four generations living under one roof.  On Mondays and Fridays Darline spends several hours at Adult Day Care while her daughter does catch-up with errands, her own doctor’s appointments, and other family obligations. Although Darline tells me she enjoys tuning in on family conversations about all of the activities and goings-on in the busy household, going to day care, where she has made a few new friends, gives her a break as well.  She also takes part in simple activities.

I believe Ken and I missed the opportunity for day care during his Alzheimer’s journey.  Up until last February, we went everywhere, and did just about everything together.  If we visited a friend, which was often at his request, he always needed to be assured that I wasn’t going to leave him.  Not even a consideration, but when I thought day care might be good for him, I also wondered if he would be willing to stay without me.   As the past year has been filled with readjustment and recuperation, he is pretty much content to be at home among what is familiar with his interests very limited.

Yet, his caregivers and I wonder how to increase his activity level.  A true sports fan at one time, television of any sort holds no interest.  Having been an out-of-doors kind of guy, and as the weather warms, Ken likes being outside.  Weather permitting, he is content with a very short walk or ride in the wheelchair, we can do that and then sit on the front porch, which is something he has always enjoyed.

He likes looking at picture books, photo albums (recognizing no one), rustling through the newspaper very briefly having lost most of his reading skills, and walking around the house to see what’s going on in each room. If Ken sees a stack of letters or papers on my desk, he’s interested.  Quickly, I divert his attention to something else and scurry him from the room.  I would like to give him all the junk mail to carry around and hide in books, but that adds too much confusion to my life. Overall, though, his span of interest is much like that of a very young child: short.

Reading one of the numerous blogs about AD activity, one caregiver reminded us not to overwhelm our patient with “too much.”  She had offered a coloring opportunity to her mother only to have mom just sit and stare at the crayons and paper.  Eventually she removed all but one red crayon.  Success!  Apparently, there were too many objects from which to choose, so she chose nothing.  With only one, she went right to work.  Good ideas need to be explored.

With one crayon and one page to color, I placed the project on a small, narrow table for Ken to ponder.  With another page and another crayon I pulled up a chair and sat across from him and began coloring my picture.  “Wouldn’t you like to color your page?” I asked, handing him a crayon.  He looked at the crayon and decided the bright color might be something to eat.  “No, no,” I cried, taking back the crayon.  Briefly, I continued with my page making an effort to attract his attention to my activity.  He spoke in disconnected sentences looking at me as if I wasn’t there.  There was no way he wanted to color.  At other times Ben has offered him a pencil and paper encouraging him to write his name.  All to no avail — some activities work while others don’t.

I tried a puzzle with Ken, but it held no interest although there were only five pieces.  It was a Spiderman puzzle and perhaps it was the subject matter he didn’t understand.   Even in its absolute simplicity and with my help he walked away.  I’ll try again – presenting a more simplified pattern with which he may relate.  What is important, however, is that we make the effort.  Keep trying, but keep it simple.

Our game closet has changed since we were new grandparents, and John and Peter are grown men with young ones of their own. The puzzles and games, even the Lincoln Logs, are gone with a few replacements added to keep the new generation entertained.  One of the zipper-closed-handy-handled-see-through plastic containers is filled to the absolute brim with colorful snap-on plastic blocks.  Wondering one day if “building” something might nudge at Ken’s engineering past Ben brought them out.  Not as complicated as Lincoln Logs, he began snapping them together, but before long his interest waned.  A colorful wall and the remaining scattered blocks were left on the table while he leaned back in his chair and took a short nap. Yet, each time they are introduced, he is interested.

Right now, it’s time to put everything away for another day.  Too bad Peter and John don’t live close by.  Perhaps it might be fun to help their grandfather build something, and when the project was finished they could help Grandpa put away the blocks.  In that imagined scenario it would be no more than right for them to help pick up.  After all, they played too.

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