So if you have read my previous posts, I know what you are probably thinking, “Kristin, you said to remove distractions, not add them.” You are correct; when having a conversation with an Alzheimer’s loved one, I find it best to remove distractions. That said, distractions can be an amazing resource to use for other situations.
You have to find a balance with distractions. I often use distractions when I am caring for my mom. My mom is pretty lucid but has her good days and her bad days. Often you can identify the bad days based on her mood, attitude, and her wherewithal. Bad days include anger and passive-aggressive statements, usually towards my dad or me when I’m not around. There is often lots of confusion on bad days. Either my mom cannot make sense of the current situation, like where she is or what is happening, or she can’t recall the past. With COVID, my mom will say she hasn’t left the house all day and that my dad locks her up. This is not the case, and often all morning, she was shopping or running errands with me. The bad days are the days that caregiving can be the most difficult. I wanted to share how I use distractions as a caregiver to help with the bad days.
Using Positive Distractions
When my mom is having a bad day or a bad moment, I find that a positive distraction can change her mood. By getting my mom to stop and focus on something else, I can, in a way, take advantage of her memory loss because oftentimes, she won’t remember what she was thinking before the distraction.
I use various distractions to attempt to pick up her mood or change her anger focus away from my dad or me. The distractions vary on a case-by-case basis, and as a caregiver, it took some trial and error to figure out what would work. Often my distractions will including exercise, topic changes, food, or involvement. I have found these distractions to be the best options that work for my mom and that I can easily and quickly implement. Below I explain these different distractions and how I incorporate them into my mom’s care.
Types of Distractions
Distractions vary based on each Alzheimer’s loved one. An Alzheimer’s loved one with mild cognitive impairment may not need the same level of distraction as an Alzheimer’s loved one with moderate cognitive impairment. As the caregiver, you have to be the judge of what is the best distraction. I often use the trial and error approach to gauge my mom’s response and try to figure out the best distraction I should use.
Sometimes some quick movement and refocus does a world of good for my mom. So when I say exercise, I don’t mean drench your loved one in sweat. But, if you know of an exercise that your loved one enjoys, do it! For my mom stretching and going for a walk are my go tos. If she seems in a mood where she is anxious or flustered, I will ask her to go for a quick walk around the block. Getting her into the sunshine and moving always perks her mood and gets rid of the excess energy. It is a great way to get a loved one refocused and perk up their spirits.
Sometimes walking isn’t feasible due to weather or time, so I will ask if she will stretch with me. Sometimes we will try a sun salutation, and other times we do basic stretches. I have my mom count out the 10 or 15 seconds we hold the stretch. I have found that this helps engage her mind with something else. You can’t count and worry at the same time 😉
Asking For Help
We all want to feel needed whether we have Alzheimer’s or not. When my mom is upset or down because she doesn’t feel like she is not contributing or she is yelling at us, “I’m not an invalid!” I ask for help with something I am doing. This can range from having her proofread a fake email I will send a coworker or folding the laundry if needed. Unloading the dishwasher is another great one. Recently she has been showing me how to knit, which has given her a lot of pride to know how to do something I don’t.
Once my mom gives me the help I need, I show gratitude and appreciation. I’d say about 90% of the time (not actual mathematics), her mood perks up. Her improved mood lets me guide her to an activity or another project. I want to note here appreciation is key. Making my mom feel like I couldn’t have done it without her is my golden ticket for a mood change. When you are asking for help from your loved one making remember to make them feel genuinely valued.
Changing the Topic
This one can get a little tricky, so I advise using it with caution. When my mom is upset by a conversation or is venting about something and getting angry, I try to change the conversation. When I first used this tactic, I would change the topic, and she would get mad and say I did it on purpose to distract her. Caregivers, I hope you learn from my mistakes.
Now I tell her when I am going to change topics, and the transition is much better. First, I always acknowledge her statement, -okay, mostly always because I’m human. Then I ask if I can change the topic or “I say not to get off topic but . . . .”. From there, she usually says okay.
Changing the topic to something enjoyable for my mom helps eliminate the negative energy she is holding. Getting her on board and having her believe she has decided to engage in a new conversation allows her mind to change focus and mood to change with it. When I let it be her decision, the transition is smooth and keeps my mom involved. When my mom feels involved, then the heat is off of me. I prefer when the heat is off of me.
When all else fails, find ice cream! My mom is a major snacker and will pretty much eat anything that is presented to her. I try to use food as a last resort because my mom isn’t as active as she once was. That said, food is a great way to distract my mom and change her mood.
When my mom’s anxiety and restlessness kick-in, I will use food as a way to refocus my mom. Cooking is a great activity for Alzheimer’s loved ones, so I try to have my mom help if I can. When that doesn’t work, eating together is my next best option. Saying things like, “I’m going to get a snack, do you want one.” “How about we make breakfast together.” Or, “Can I show you how to make a smoothie?” can help begin the distraction for my mom, and once she agrees, the distraction is put into motion.
Once we are done cooking and eating, I can suggest other activities for my mom, and she is usually more willing and interested than she would have been. I call that a win in my caregiving book!
Do You Use the Art of Distraction?
Distraction can be a great tool to refocus and take back control if needed. Not that I have any control at all, but you know what they say, “fake it till you make it!” Haha. Distractions can provide a good balance to caregiving and can be a great resource for caregivers. Do any of you use distraction? How do you distract your loved ones? I’d love to hear about your experiences.