The Power of Warm Hands

2015.3.12 painting 4

2015.3.12 painting 5

2015.3.12 painting 6 This article posted to the Alzheimer’s Reading Room –

When I visit Mom in Assisted Living, I try to arrive at the end of lunch. That is when I am most likely to find all of Mom’s neighbors in a relaxed and happy mood. They chat amiably as I begin my visiting ritual.

“Would you like a neck massage?” I ask Jane.

“Oh please.” I warm my hands and place them on her upper back and neck and begin to massage gently. She swoons with pleasure.

“You bring a little bit of heaven with you.”

Next is Gloria. “Do you tuck your wings in a handkerchief when you aren’t using them?” she grins.

And around the table I go, always asking permission. They aren’t always sure what I mean by a neck massage but each takes her cue from the happy woman sitting next to her.

They all smile, taking as much satisfaction in their neighbor’s pleasure as their own.

“How did we get so lucky?” they ask.

“Oh, no. I’m the lucky one.” I reply. And it’s true.

Lately I’ve been getting yearning looks from other residents so I move to another table. “Would you like a neck massage?”

“I’m not crazy. Yes!”

There are all sorts of really good reasons for massage. Building reassurance and trust, calming agitation, easing isolation and boredom – but me, I just love doing it.

It’s such a simple thing but it brings such happiness – to them and to me.

PS I’ve been getting some of those longing looks from the staff. They’re next.

The Model for the paintings: 2015.3.3 model 2

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Mom the Caregiver

2011 26Mom wasn’t always a happy, cheerful presence in Assisted Living. There was a time when she was just the opposite.

When Dad was in a wheelchair, he needed help dressing and undressing. This INFURIATED Mom. She hated, hated the fact that other women were undressing her husband.

She couldn’t understand why. To her mind, he was perfectly capable of dressing and undressing himself. And if he needed help, it was her job.

“I can do that,” she would declare. Of course, it was a job beyond her. It took two people to help him up and prepare him for bed or the day.

Her next tactic was to try to chase them away. Once she tried to pour water on them. You can imagine how that went over.

I began inventing errands for us to run just before the nurses arrived. But it wasn’t easy. It was her job to take care of him and she resisted leaving him for any length of time.

This pattern continued until Dad’s death at the age of 89. Her grief was profound but she quickly bounced back to her happy, delightful self. Still, underneath there was a constant mournful murmur; “Oh Bob,” she would sigh throughout the day.

It’s been eight years and just when I think that her memories of Dad have faded away, she reassures me. Upon awakening this morning, she asked, “How long have I been married?” (For the record, they met in high school at the age of 14 and married nine years later for 66 happy years.)

The memory may be dim but it’s still there

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Hop up, Bob

Forgive me if you’ve heard this story but it really is worth retelling.

In the last year of his life, the fact that my father was in a wheelchair simply didn’t register with Mom.

“Hop up, Bob!” she would chirp, seeing only the strong handsome man she married in 1942. Most of the time, he would stay put but every once in a while he would forget that he couldn’t walk and hop, or at least lumber, to his feet.

And then, of course, he fell heavily to the floor.

“Mom,” I would explain, “Dad can’t walk. He is in a wheelchair.”

“No, he isn’t,” she would say,

God knows he was strong. He fell 22 times that year and didn’t break a bone.

Once I got on my knees and begged him, “Dad, when Mom tells you to hop up, please don’t.”
He would agree until the next time Mom would sing out, “Hop up, Bob!”

They adored one another.

painting 2.23 3
painting 2.23 1

painting 2.23 2
These are three paintings based on the model pictured below.model 2.23

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As long as she needs me…

Elderwise David J

Elderwise Nancy C

Elderwise Pat KMy father’s last years were difficult. Wheelchair-bound with an advanced case of Parkinson’s and his Alzheimer’s gaining in strength. There were angry outbursts, confusion, depression, withdrawal, hallucinations and fear.

I was not always the best caregiver. I didn’t always understand how—and if I am being completely honest, wasn’t always willing—to extend the compassion he needed and deserved. All too often I let the sadness of the disease or worse—old conflicts—get in the way.

But that was before my long apprenticeship with Mom. She opened my eyes and heart—allowing me to let go of my fear and embrace the person who is with me now instead of yearning for the person who used to be.

A few weeks ago, I thought it might be Mom’s turn. She was changing—increasingly disinterested, withdrawn and incoherent with flashes of belligerence.

And then a reprieve. At a recent care conference, perhaps lulled into complacency by mother’s consistently cheerful demeanor, we decided to forego the anti-depressant she had been taking for so long. Not a great idea as it turned out. We reversed course and within days she was back to her sunny self.

But thanks to Mom, I know now what I needed to know then.

I am ready—emotionally and strategically—to offer her what I had failed to give to Dad: acceptance, patience, a calming presence, touch and a willing resolve to be there as long as she needs me.

These are paintings by Mom’s neighbors who paint in the Elderwise art program at Seattle’s Horizon House.


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Absolutely Fabulous!

gardon flower bulbAnyone who thinks of Alzheimer’s and dementia as horribly depressing should come with me to Assisted Living.

I arrive at lunch time and everyone is in a jolly mood. They nod their approval as I greet each by her correct name. (Sometimes I get them mixed up but they are very patient with me.)

Flora (thin as a bird) consults me, “I ate a piece of toast and a brownie. Do you think that is too much?” “No, I think that is just right,” I say. She smiles. In fact everyone smiles. Happiness abounds.

“You bring a little bit of heaven when you come,” coos Jane.

And the paintings! Ever since I broadened my horizons to include everyone in Mom’s painting class, I’ve been totally amazed. These paintings by Sue and Janet are their interpretations of a flower bulb.
eggers flower bulb
model flower bulb
Absolutely fabulous!


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