Saturday, November 10, 2012

Aids to independence

Although there are many books and websites dedicated to dementia and Alzheimer's, if your loved one is suffering from one of these illnesses, you will quickly find that things don't go the way the book says they will.  One of the things I found was that while my mom was generally successful in her assisted living setting, there were things, as her journey progressed, that she could no longer do, and distressed her greatly.

The first problem we encountered was difficulty dialing the phone.  We provided her with a phone that had very large buttons on it, so that she could see them better.  But this did not solve the problem.  Really, the complexity of looking at a phone number on a piece of paper and then typing the numbers on the phone was just too much.  But my mom loved to call me and my brother.  Our solution:  a device that hooked up to the phone so that the phone became voice activated.  Once we got it set up, all Mom had to do was pick up the phone and say my name, my brother's name, or names of other people she might want to call.  We also programmed the portable phone that the nurses carried, the "name" my mom had to say to call that number was "help".  I never knew these devices existed.  But once it was set up, it made a big difference.  You can order them from the internet.

Another problem that arose after my mom had been in the assisted living apartment for some time was that she was no longer able to maneuver the toothbrush and toothpaste.  If you think about it, putting toothpaste on your toothbrush is a complex task.  You have to hold the toothbrush in one hand, the toothpaste in the other, and squeeze just enough toothpaste out of the tube and onto the toothbrush.  It just got to be too hard, and when my mom made a mess of the toothpaste, that really upset her.  The solution?  A disposable toothbrush with "tooth powder" already on the brush.  All my mom had to do was wet the toothbrush and she could brush her teeth.  Then she could throw the brush away.  We ordered these from, which is a site that sells bulk toothbrushes.  Surprisingly, a case of the pre-pasted disposable toothbrushes were less than $25.00.  My mom loved them.  The only drawback, and it was a minor one, was that each brush came in its own wrapper, which was also tough for Mom to handle.  So once a week I would unwrap a weeks worth of toothbrushes and put them in her toothbrush holder for her.  A small inconvenience in exchange for the huge amount of stress it averted in my mom.

My mom loved to listen to the radio.  She had a favorite talk radio station, and also she had a country music station that she listened to, and then there was the local small town station that had all the local events, and played "golden oldies".  The trouble was that she could not work the radio to change the station.  She would try to change the station, have difficulty, and become distressed because once the tuning had moved, she could not access any station at all.  It would seem like a simple problem, after all, cars have had radio pre-set buttons for years.  But try to find a radio for inside your house that has this feature!!!!!  Not easy!!!!!
Finally we found that Timex makes a radio with station pre-sets that Mom could work.  Another problem averted!

Clothing problems also arose as Mom's problems became more apparent.  She could no longer tie her shoes or button a shirt.  For us, these were simple solutions--shoes with velcro straps or slip ons instead of laces....and eliminate the button down shirts.   Other families might have clothing related needs that are more complex. is one store that sells clothing geared specifically towards disabled people, including dementia patients who disrobe inappropriately. 

For problems that aren't mentioned here, I would highly recommend  This is a store specifically geared towards families with a loved one who is suffering from dementia, although other health problems are represented, too.  They have sorted their products into "early", "middle" and "late" stage products, and many of the items are simply genius!  They have videos and "gadgets" to keep your loved one occupied, books for caregivers, even little sticky notes that a person of the opposite sex can place on a public restroom door, alerting others that he/she is present in the restroom to assist their loved one.  Anyone with an elderly loved one should take a look at this site.

Last but not least, "Google is your friend"!  If your loved one is struggling with a specific problem related to independence, I can guarantee that even if you have never heard of that problem before, dozens of people have already found ways to deal with it!  At the very least, it makes a caregiver feel less alone, knowing that others have walked the same path.....but most of the time, someone else's creativity will help you find a way to help your loved one.

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