You know your loved one, inside and out, but sometimes, without even realizing it because of dementia, you might be holding them back from trying new things. It’s not intentional, of course; you just want the best for them. But like me, you might unconsciously be limiting their chances to explore fresh experiences because the idea of something sounds so foreign to you. Instead, I just need to forget my ethnic preconceptions of dementia care.
Sometimes you have to get out of the way to get the chance to discover new joys and open up the opportunity for them to enjoy different aspects of life that you would never have believed possible.
Ethic Preconceptions of Dementia Care
In our ethnic community, there aren’t many social gatherings tailored for individuals with dementia. I hesitated to involve Mom in existing social groups because they didn’t seem to align with her background and experiences. Unfortunately, most ethnic or religious dementia groups are in larger cities, so it was hard to find something that would be appropriate or suitable for Mum as there wasn’t that connection point.
The only group for individuals with dementia that I found in our local area was a singing group.
I knew already that the songs sung would be songs like Elvis or songs like “We’ll Meet Again”, “Over the Rainbow”, “White Cliffs of Dover”, etc., songs that my mother would never have heard of as they weren’t part of her ethnic heritage or experiences.
I believed that there was no way Mum would enjoy that. I know Mum, she wouldn’t relate to this!
I had to let go of my own ethnic preconceptions of dementia care.
The alternative would be Mum staying at home all the time, never really getting out to see other people (despite whatever everyone says, visitors did drop off markedly once Mum got diagnosed).
Joining a Singing Group
So despite my preconceptions, I arranged to take Mum to this singing group. The group couldn’t be more welcoming. There were lots of volunteers and a variety of carers with those living with dementia at different stages, an elder group all around my mother’s age. We immediately made friends with a woman who looked after her mother and was also in a wheelchair.
After meeting and greeting everyone and having fresh tea & coffee, the group started singing using preprinted booklets with the lyrics of all the songs. They had a lead singer on guitar who called out the songs, a guy on percussion, a keyboardist and a bass guitarist.
The lead singer did a lovely thing for Mum to include her in the group. He asked when her birthday was (the month before) and said as she was new to the group, we must sing Happy Birthday to her. Well, Mum lit up as he and the group sang her happy birthday, and she started to sing along with them. She had a lovely smile, shyly looking around the room.
The rest of the hour was spent singing old songs with great hooks or choruses, so even if Mum didn’t know the song, the repetition of the chorus lines allowed us to join, and Mum would repeat a single word or phrase. Mum was riveted.
The organisers asked for volunteers to sing. One lady got up and sang like Vera Lynn; she had a lovely voice, and another guy sang an Elvis song. Both had dementia, and the lovely volunteers helped them.
They loved it. We loved it. It was such an inclusive group.
They encouraged those who could to get up and dance to the next song. The volunteers excelled here, supporting those who needed it or sitting with those who could tap their feet or sway in their chairs.
I got Mum twirling in her wheelchair, which she wasn’t a fan of, along with the other carer with her Mum in the wheelchair (who was loving it). Mum eventually liked it once I slowed down and pushed her forward and back instead of twirling.
She came home wide awake, energised and happy. I know now that I made the right decision. So I’ve cancelled my respite morning, hoping they’ll find another available day. We’ve had some major health issues this year that have prompted me to try to make the most of the time we have.
Putting Aside Preconceptions of Dementia Care
Forget what others think, forget your preconceived ideas, and just try it. Try something new, something unfamiliar and get out of the way. Let your loved one experience new things. Some will take, some won’t, but what’s the alternative, stuck in a rut of a Groundhog Day?
I do my best every day to ensure Mum has something to occupy her, but I can’t be everywhere. There is cleaning, cooking food, and attending to her needs, so sometimes I need to leave her alone.
Still, where I can, she comes with me into the kitchen to help me chop or just chat as I cook, in the wheelchair up into the lift as I make up the beds with freshly laundered sheets and the kitten jumping all over them.
I have had to change my thinking, adapt to Mum’s capabilities, and ensure she is engaged. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when she falls asleep, and I cannot motivate her into action. This week has been especially hard due to illness, medications, and other things that have made her sleepier than usual.
But making that extra effort and getting out of the way can make all the difference to your lives. Just give it a try, and keep trying till you find something that works for you!
Til next week, here’s Kikki in her little harness!