Alzheimer’s disease is one of society’s most devastating diseases, not only because of what it does to the Alzheimer’s sufferer but as much because of the toll it takes on the caregiver. For this reason Alzheimer’s care has become a growing priority in America.
While medical science searches for a cure and a preventative, the search is underway to develop therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer’s care that can slow the progress of the dementia or can bring relief to patients and Alzheimer’s caregivers alike. In recent years, memory stimulation has been discovered to slow the progress of dementia in Alzheimer’s patients as well as other forms of progressive dementia. Studies have found that by exercising the memory of the Alzheimer’s patient, one can successfully slow the progress of the dementia. This has led to the suggestion that family members create what is termed a “memory repository” which can be used to help stimulate and exercise the portions of the brain that deal with memory. Memory repositories, simply put, are external artifacts which can trigger the memory of a patient. These can be in the form of photo journals, scrapbooks or DVDs or any practical method for displaying these memory triggers.
In commenting on this area of study, the Mayo Clinic said, “Your life is like a tapestry, woven from your memories of people and events. Some threads are dark, while others are bright. Your individual tapestry shines vividly in your mind, reminding you of who you are, where you’ve been and what you’ve done.
“Alzheimer’s disease gradually robs people of the memories that make up their tapestries. You can help mend these holes by creating a tangible repository of memories – in a scrapbook, videotape or audiotape.
“Caregivers become the memory for their loved one with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Glenn Smith, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. “By gathering memories, you can bring important events and experiences from your loved one’s past into the present. You’re the link to his or her life history.”*
The need to create more practical and supportive way to provide mental stimulation has resulted in a new market and the development of new products to fill that need. New table top and hand held puzzles and other toys have been created and existing toys that once entertained young children, like clear plastic containers filled with water and colored oil that flows through a partition like an hourglass have been updated to be more appropriate for this new market. Each one either provides stimulation for the mind or the hands.
Another new line of innovate products are found in therapeutic quilts. One such product, the “touch quilt” is created out of a variety of various cloths, each with a highly distinct texture. Textures such as like corduroy, flannel or terrycloth can engage the nervous hands of an Alzheimer’s sufferer and calm him/her. At the same time the quilt itself can provide warmth and comfort to the patient. Cold extremities are common among even the healthiest of seniors, the result of a natural reduction in circulation.
A recent development in therapeutic quilts is the “fidget quilt.” A fidget quilt is smaller than a “touch quilt”, usually around 20″ square, and is particularly useful for Alzheimer’s patients who exhibit greater nervous tension in their hands. The fidget quilt is adorned with a variety of buttons, zippers and other items designed to hold the attention of the Alzheimer’s patient and can provide hours of tactile entertainment while adding the natural comfort that comes from a good quality of flannel or other soft cloth. Many experienced Alzheimer’s caregivers swear by the effectiveness of the fidget quilt.
The therapeutic photo memory quilt is yet another recent development which is receiving raves reviews throughout the industry. Although there are no universal templates for a therapeutic photo memory quilt, the most effective therapeutically designed photo memory quilts have large photos for easy viewing and the photos are labeled to not only further trigger the memories in early stage Alzheimer’s patients, but also to facilitate interaction with professional caregivers who aren’t familiar with the patients family. It’s this conversation that significantly enhances the effectiveness of the photos which have been printed into the fabric.
The natural advantage of the therapeutic photo memory quilt over a scrapbook is that it can provide the opportunity of continuous stimulation while resting on the patients lap or on their bed and caregivers can utilize the quilt during casual contact with the patient whereas the scrapbook has to be brought to the patient and requires the active participation of the caregiver during its use. Nor does the scrapbook doesn’t offer the opportunity for casual use by caregivers during routine interactions.
The therapeutic photo memory quilt can be particularly helpful outside the home in an assisted care facility where the Alzheimer’s care givers don’t usually have the time to bring out a scrapbook, lack knowledge of the history of the patients but interact with the patient many times a day in the normal course of their duties. Each encounter becomes an opportunity to stimulate the memory by directing the patient’s attention to a photo, identifying the picture and asking the patient a question about it.
While the new toys and puzzles can be substituted with recycled children’s varieties, the adult versions are usually more ergonomically suited and can be purchased at various websites on the internet. Touch quilts and fidget quilts can be crafted at home and in some limited cases, volunteer groups might be found stitching them as a charity project. Some skilled quilt makers also make different forms of memory quilts for their loved ones which can be adapted for Alzheimer’s patients as well.
*Reference: Mayo Clinic article titled “Alzheimer’s: Mementos help preserve memories.