‘Alzhumor’: Using Laughter to Lighten the Mood of Caregiving
BY MARIA DENEAU
I’ve started noticing that the conversation around Alzheimer’s disease is always so heavy. Like, dead weight heavy. It’s about time we started changing that tone — especially for the folks and families doing the caregiving.
There’s some funny “shit-ake mushrooms” being said and done while experiencing this bizarre world of dementia, so I figure that until we cure this dumb disease, we have to learn coping strategies, like how to laugh. Swearing is another one…which you’ve already figured out.
For those of you who are still reading, here are some coping strategies and stories that I’ve either heard about from a family caregiver or a facility caregiver, or that I have experienced firsthand in my own adventures as the daughter to a mom with Alzheimer’s. I’m also a public policy advocate/ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association and a professional in the geriatric healthcare world. So, I have seen A LOT. Most names shall be “made up” for the simple fact of privacy, but these stories are just too darn funny.
Alzhumor Coping Strategy No. 1: Meet Them Where They Are.
First and foremost, as a family member or caregiver, this is the most important thing to understand about this disease: you HAVE to meet your person where they are, figuratively speaking. If they think it’s 1953 today, then you better get out your poodle skirt and American bandstand records. If they think it’s 1973, same thing! Hot pants and Brady Bunch episodes…but stay away from the fish bowl, if ya know what I mean.
So, my friend and fellow advocate “Laurie” takes care of her grandmother with dementia in her home with her mother. They are the only caregivers for this delightful old gal, and one day, after doing exercises with her, her grandmother started cracking up out of nowhere. Laurie asked, “Nana, what’s so funny?” Her Nana finally stopped laughing and shouted “I’m getting married!” Laurie said “To who?” and Nana replied “I HAVE NO IDEA!” and kept cracking up! So, they both just sat there laughing their guts out. Laurie didn’t correct her or get upset. She’s way beyond that. Instead, she just enjoyed a humorous moment with her Nana.
Alzhumor Coping Strategy No. 2: Their Reality Is YOUR Reality.
You never know where they might take you with this one, so just go with it every single time. Literally.
I used to work in a Nnursing and rehab center, and there was one resident “Marilyn” who was slightly ornery, but always had a perplexed smile on her face. She had a lot of kids and grandkids, so with her dementia, she found comfort in baby dolls. Her daughters would bring in clean baby doll clothes and bonnets for this doll of Marilyn’s and it was pretty cute. One day, I was helping staff get everyone down to the dining room for lunch and told Marilyn “Come on! I’m gonna give you a ride!” (She was in a wheelchair.) As we went down the hall, she was rocking and singing to her “baby” and it was a very sweet moment. I stopped and asked her quietly, “How’s your baby today, Marilyn?” She looked up at me and without missing a beat, said “It’s just a doll, you idiot!” She was lucid for just a brief moment, clearly. We both started laughing so hard. By that point, she had no idea why she was laughing, but that just solidified why I do what I do!
Alzhumor Coping Strategy No. 3: Hallucinations Are Normal. Don’t Argue.
“Ted” was a pig farmer all of his life in Southwest Michigan and ended up with Alzheimer’s. He still lived at home in the family farmhouse. His adult children were stressed out by his hallucinations and sought counsel from the local Alzheimer’s Association in Kalamazoo with the program coordinator and social worker, Barb. One day, they called her completely distraught because Dad was running around saying that there were pigs and children running through the house. They kept trying to calm him down by telling him that there WERE NOT pigs and children running through the house. This only agitated him more. Barb calmly told them to acknowledge this. So, one day when Ted started screaming again about the pigs, his son quickly picked up a broom and started yelling “SUEEEEY!” and sweeping the pigs to the door. His sister opened the door and out the front door he swept those pigs! They slammed the door and turned around. Dad went and sat down in his Lazy Boy and said very matter of fact “‘Bout damned time somebody listened to me!” and was quiet for the rest of the evening.
My biggest takeaway here is to just keep it light as much as possible. If it’s funny, LAUGH! If it’s not funny, LAUGH. There isn’t a damn thing that you can do to control this disease and its tentacles. “Dr. Octopus ain’t got nuthin’ on Alzheimer’s.” I’m certainly not trying to “make light” of the horrors of this disease, but to encourage you to “be light” when going through your day. Next week, I’ll share three more stories to make you smile.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Maria (Martini) Deneau is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and is the only daughter of four children born to Bernard and Evelyn Martini. She is a graduate of The University of Cincinnati and is currently employed by Kindred Healthcare in Southwest Michigan as a Home Health Specialist (Account Liaison) and has worked in senior healthcare since 2007. Maria serves as a Board Member for Fund Development at Senior Services of Kalamazoo County and also serves as a Networking Board Member for Professionals Focused on Aging in Kalamazoo, MI. She has also been recognized by the state of Ohio Senate for Outstanding Achievement and exemplary service to the community and its youth while living in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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