Delores Peich
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Candlelight Dinner with My Mom

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She had been kind of ‘out of it’ from the time I arrived for dinner. The memory care center where my Mom lived always had activities going on and once a month they held a Candlelight Dinner. This was a neat time, because I was able to go to these dinners with my Dad, sit at lovely tables (all decorated beautifully) and enjoy whatever type of entertainment they had booked for the evening. This was their annual Holiday Candlelight Dinner and I was a little nervous about how she would do. Mom lived at a fairly small place, so these dinners usually had about 50 people total in attendance. Usually, I could get Mom to get into a conversation with me, but not tonight. She just wasn’t in the mood. She was sullen, looked tired and appeared as though she would rather be in her room than in this beautiful dining area. Dementia is funny like that. Good days and bad days, sometimes even hour to hour her emotional state could change and tonight she was NOT in the mood. At the front of the room was an upright piano. Then the ‘entertainment’ arrived.

 

The man wore a tuxedo. He was an older gentleman with an accent of some sort and began to talk to various residents and family members. He had planned to sing Christmas carols, but soon decided to do things a little differently for this special audience. My Mom lit up! She leaned into me and told me how famous he was and how unbelievable it was that she would be able to see him perform on the piano. Mom played the piano beautifully when I was a child, and my maternal Grandmother was a concert pianist. I didn’t argue with her, but when I leaned into her and told her he was about to begin, she “shushed” me quite rudely!

The man sat on the piano bench and made a point of making eye contact with each resident in the room, and after he had finished one ‘old time’ song, he would leanway back on the bench, and ask for suggestions for songs to sing next. Mom began shouting out titles of songs she remembered from when she was in college, back in the 50′s…and he’d play them. Then she began to sing! Mom sat entranced, singing every word, ignoring me completely, and I was never happier. Then something really neat happened. Mom got out of her chair, walked to the front of the room and began to dance. She was happier than I’d seen her in weeks. She outright flirted with the pianist, much to my Dad’s chagrin, so I consoled Dad by reminding him that Mom was in a ‘different place’ right now. Mom motioned to some of her friends, and two or three joined her next to the piano to dance and sing. It was amazing. This was fairly early on in my ‘caregiver days’ and I had been told that Mom might remember things from years and years before, but I hadn’t seen it until that night. It was beautiful.

I learned a very valuable ‘tool’ at that Candlelight dinner. Music, especially old time music, could pull Mom out of a funk and turn her into a youthful, energetic, fun and flirty lady! I made it a point to learn some of these songs, so I could sing along with her the next time this man came to play (and he ended up coming there almost every month for at least a year)!

When Mom sat back down to eat her dinner, and the musician continued to play, she again ignored me and told me to be quiet because “it’s not every day you get to hear someone this famous play”. I was happy. Mom was happy. Dad was still a little embarrassed, but he soon got over it!

The lesson that I learned is that not all folks who are suffering from dementia, will always have bad days or not be able to recall their past. We had had a series of quite a few bad days in a row, and I was beginning to believe that was Mom’s ‘new normal’. We can never be prepared for which memories are intact, when they will be recalled and if the memory will cause joy or tears. Christmas carols and even love songs may spark sadness and grief in some. For others, it can bring immense joy. For those who have lost spouses, this time of year may only remind them that their loved one is no longer with them. For those who used to sing or play an instrument (as my Mom had), it could have gone either way, because she no longer could play the piano and I had no idea if she would know the words or not, but in this case it brought her incredible happiness.

The moral of the story is not everything you read online and learn in books is the “right approach” for every person with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. What works for someone with dementia today may not have the same outcome the next time we try it just because the behavior or emotion is the same. I continued to use music as a way to reach Mom as the years passed, and most of the time it worked.

The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation offers a toolkit to recognize and help caregivers help their loved ones deal with late in life depression. If you are caring for an aging loved one at home or have a caregiver already in place, and your loved one has any chance of wandering or is no longer safe at home, call your local senior advisor to discuss options for the near future. The holidays can be a great time to reconnect with your aging loved ones, and as long as you have the tools to get through the holidays, it can be a great time of the year.

As always, if you have any questions or need help with your parents or grandparents, just give me a call!

Laura

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