“There is quality of life in the touch of a towel and the smell of detergent.” Eloy van Hal, Founder of The Hogeweyk.
Caregivers, too often we act as if our senior can no longer contribute to life at home. But modified tasks and a little help may be all it takes for them to feel worthwhile. And that leads to a quality life.
I had the privilege of hearing Eloy van Hal of “The Dementia Village” at a symposium for eldercare professionals offered by RothKoff Law Group Elder Care Law. The forethought and innovation that went into designing this way of living for people with dementia is amazing. After seventeen years, they have proven that the design encourages residents with dementia to be in community with one another and productive members of their village .
The inspiration for this blog is the idea Eloy van Hal challenged us to keep in mind as we questioned: Can this model work here in the US?
“Take this vision and implement bits while challenging regulations, to create an environment that people living with dementia recognize and do well in.”
The idea of implementing pieces of their vision wouldn’t leave my thoughts. Two days later I had a chance to test this idea out with mom. Mom doesn’t have dementia; it is her eyesight that prevents her from participating in many activities. But I learned that setting up the right environment means there are things she can do which we never thought to try.
Over the last couple of months, she has mentioned that the quilt on her bed needed to be mended in several places. The topic came up when I was paying bills, managing her meds or focused on some other caregiving task. I must admit; my only response was “mmhmm.”
Last Saturday we opted not to go to a family party because of the forecasted Nor’easter. It was a gift because it allowed me to accomplish everything on my task list without the stress of time. I asked mom what she wanted to get done that day and she said, “I want to try and sew my quilt.”
OK, mom can’t SEE to sew the quilt. But the challenge from Eloy van Hal was still fresh in my mind. My task was to think about how I could set up her environment, so she could sew the it. And you know it wasn’t hard, it just took some time.
I put on all the lights in the room only to discover the task light behind her needed a new bulb. I changed the bulb. I asked mom if she thought black thread might help because the quilt is cream colored. “It couldn’t hurt.” I asked mom if she wanted a medium size needle or a big one. “I’m not sure which will be better.” I threaded the medium size one, laid the quilt on her lap and went back in the other room to pay bills. When she ran out of thread, we decided to try the big needle. It didn’t work as well so when she ran out of thread again, we went back to the medium needle. When she had mended all the edges, I heard her call out, “I’m done” and the accomplishment in her voice was a joy to hear.
My mother has always taken great pride in her home and there are many things she can no longer do. Had I sewn the quilt myself, it would have robbed her of this sense of accomplishment.
How often as caregivers do we take on the task because it is easier than having our elder do it? It would have been easier for me to sew the quilt. I would have used one needle, white thread and avoided jumping up to check a couple of times and make sure she had not stuck herself with the needle. But it is important for her to be “involved in recognizable, meaningful tasks” according to Eloy.
When I picked up the quilt to put it back on her bed, I said “Mom, you did a great job.” Her response, “I really don’t care what it looks like. It’s done.” And she is right, the sewing is not perfect, but the quilt is mended. How often as caregivers, do we take over because it won’t be done right?
That night I made dinner – enchiladas – one of mom’s favorites and something she doesn’t make. When she asked what she could do to help, I said “If you could grate the cheese for me that would be a big help.” So, she did.
I challenge you as caregivers to not always do, but recognize that a task that is not perfect is okay. In fact, in this instance it is beautiful.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.