Putting the “Memory” into “Memory Care”
We first met Tim and his father, Tom, when Tim told the story of what happened when he took his father up to fly in a small plane. Tom was a WWII and Korean dive-bomber pilot, and Tim knew that his dad’s military flying career was still “etched deep in his heart” in spite of the fact that Tom sank deep into dementia. The moment his father got on the plane, both his memory and skills revived remarkably, so that the pilot handed the controls over to him
Today’s story takes us back to Tim and Tom with another example of how truly inspirational person-centered care is, and how it can re-invigorate memories.
A Love of Swimming
Tom was a strong, avid swimmer with a lifelong love of the water. When he retired in the early 1980s, Tom and his wife Alice began attending adult swim sessions at the local high school, the same school their seven children had attended. Alice would accompany Tom to the pool, but after a couple years other retirement activities took her away from swimming. Meanwhile, Tom continued swimming at the high school for almost 30 years.
In early 2012, Tom and Alice moved to a retirement community, but Tom’s advancing dementia meant he had to live in a different part of the facility, separated from his wife. He began sinking deeper into mental fog and inactivity, losing his physical functionality so much that he required a lift to get in and out of a pool, something the high school did not offer.
Meanwhile, Alice had begun taking a senior swim/exercise class at another senior facility within walking distance of her own. Alice preferred the pool at the other facility because it was small, very social, and heated to a balmy temperature.
Tim decided that getting Tom into the pool with Alice and the other seniors would be the best thing for Tom’s body, mind, and spirit. Tim knew it would be difficult to get his father to understand that he wanted to take him to a new pool, let alone have him be willing to give it a try.
But Tom loved swimming and the water, and his wife had always been central to his quality of life, so once Tim helped his dad understand that Alice would be in the pool with him, Tom was suddenly very willing.
Tom & Alice on their wedding day in 1952
The First Visit
Tim had received permission from Tom’s physician, but was still concerned before their first visit to the new pool—after all, his father had progressive dementia, and the pool was full of strangers. Granted, they were seniors like Tom, but the class was an exercise class, and not specifically for those with Alzheimer’s and related dementias (ADRD).
Tim’s fear about how his father would react to the new pool was allayed on their very first visit. Tom was very foggy that day, but as soon as he entered the pool area and saw his wife in the pool, his eyes widened and his whole aspect changed.
Tom and Alice Together
“Wherever he was, mentally, on any particular day, as soon as he got to the pool and saw my mom, his overall presence and mental acuity would change dramatically,” Tim said.
Alice always waited in the pool at the bottom of the lift, and as soon as Tom was in the water, the first thing that happened was a quick kiss between the two. Tom was also gifted with a powerful singing voice. After the kiss, he’d sing the chorus of a song to his wife and the other members of the group, who quickly accepted him as a valued member. “He delighted them, and they delighted him,” Tim said.
Tim continued to take his dad swimming until less than 60 days before dementia took Tom’s life.
What You Can Do for Your Loved One
This story provides a prime example of how person-centered care can effectively revive memory for those living with Alzheimer’s/dementia. When a caregiver is able to assimilate a knowledge of the personal history and meaningful activities of the person in their care, they can design activities that provide the ultimately personal, positive experiences that stimulate memory.
Tim’s final statement about caring for his father makes for a very warm, clear description of his own version of person-centered care:
“I tried to make it possible for him to do the things that made his heart smile.”
Tom & Alice in 2012
Sadly, Tom passed from dementia-related causes on March 2, 2014.
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