Category Archives: Time and Space

“Look at Bingy”: Alzheimer’s and Distraction

Frustration is part of Alzheimer’s and other age-related memory loss and dementias – frustration for the person themself and the people caring for or interacting with them.  warning on dementias ward doorOften, an Alzheimer’s person will believe something totally contrary to “reality” – it may be a big thing or a little thing.  But explaining, usually, will get you (the non-Alzheimer’s person) nowhere.  At best, your explanation will be immediately forgotten. At worst, it will create an argument and distress for both parties – really over nothing that can be resolved.

It’s very hard coping with “it’s white” statements when you know that, in fact, “it’s black”.  You can reason, you can scream, but nothing is going to convince that person.   It’s especially hard when the person is a parent or grandparent, an individual you respect and who expects respectful behaviour from you.

I’ve read that the best thing is distraction, and I find it works better than any long-winded explanation.  But you can’t be obvious about it.  Someone might have Alzheimer’s but that doesn’t mean they don’t pick up on patronizing behaviours.  So you have to distract Bing the dog, in service stationto something equally interesting or at least off-the-wall enough to command attention.  With luck, the attention paid to that new thing will last long enough for the problematic thing to be forgotten.   I call it the ‘look at Bingy’ strategy.  Thinking of it that way helps me as much as it does the person with whom I’m dealing.

‘Look at Bingy’ became a family catchphrase for distraction after my mother invented it out of necessity.  A guy had come to my father’s business to see him, but only my mother and the dog were there.   The guy thought Mom was a fine looking woman and put the makes on her.  She didn’t want to offend, but wanted to stop him.  So every time he’d start with ‘hows about it’ type things, she’d say “oh, look at Bingy!”  He’d turn to see what the dog was doing.  This worked for Mom at service station windowher several times, until he said “Bingy be damned!” in that Bing wasn’t actually doing much of anything.  However, it bought Mom time and Dad soon returned.  After that, whenever you were in a sticky situation and didn’t know how to get out of it, ‘look at Bingy’ was a reminder to play for time.

So, with Alzheimer’s creating belief that “I don’t live here” or “I don’t have any food, I need to go shopping”, the ‘look at Bingy’ approach can forestall pointless argument.  Saying ‘you do live here, remember when you moved in?’ or ‘you have your meals in the dining room’ means nothing to someone who can’t remember where the dining room is.  Start talking about something else – the dog or cat or someplace you went on the weekend.  Just pick places and people that you think might ring a bell.  Dogs and cats are especially good.  I’ve found pets are remembered more clearly than many people, and not being able to remember them is less upsetting.

You’re not going to cure Alzheimer’s, you’re not going to bring the person’s memory back, you’re not going to ‘teach’ them anything.  The best you can do is listen, acknowledge and, yes, sometimes distract.

Excellent posts that are no longer online it seems: …death of the mind… (a particularly valuable point a way down the page is “if you argue with an Alzheimer’s patient, you get exactly what you deserve”; Alzheimer’s Assoc. Online Community, in which a poster (Dec. 31/10) gives this advice “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.”  Using Leonard Cohen’s words in this context is inspired –  so lovely, so true.

Snow Day

back yard with dog and snowAll the snow had gone, even the mud had started to dry up.  Then bang, last night, a snowstorm.  A mixture of rain, freezing rain and snow making big heavy piles of snow on wires, trees and fences.  Beautiful.  Our backyard late last night.  Today, a snow day. At the dog park, only one other person there with his dogs.

Then Pinafore Park, only a few people there.  Another man taking Peter Robson statue, Pinafore Park, St. Thomaspictures.  Another woman walking her Boxer in his winter coat.  A young couple bringing their kids to the playground.  They didn’t stay long.  The pheasants were toddling around their cozy enclosure, seemingly not aware or caring about the snow outside it.

Stores were pretty empty all day, so a couple store clerks told me.  Playground in snow, Pinafore Park, St. ThomasBut Tim Hortons was blocked with people, inside and in the drive-through.  It was definitely a doughnut and coffee or hot chocolate day.  And definitely a day for playing in the snow.

Detailing

Several years ago, I bought a two-year old car from a newspaper ad.  When I took it for a test drive, I couldn’t believe how clean and nice the inside was.  It was like a brand-new car.  The young woman selling it was also very neat and tidy.  She seemed like the sort that kept a car immaculate.

German Shepherd in back seat of car - cleanI had a very large German Shepherd who shed like crazy and liked to get muddy.  And, dog or no dog, I’ve never had a car that stayed clean for more than two days.  During our test drive, I started apologizing to the seller.  I told her about the dog, who was not with me, and that the car would not stay clean.  She said “oh, I usually have a mess in the car too.  Don’t worry about that.”  I thought sure, your mess would consist of one empty coffee cup carefully placed in the cup holder and maybe an empty water bottle rolling around.  My dear, you don’t know a messy car!

I bought the car and assured her that I would put proper covers on all the seats and floor so the dog didn’t mess them up.  I wanted to tell her that, if I were her, I wouldn’t sell the car to me.  She just took my cheque and wished me well.

I had the car for a long time.  It was always a mess.  I learned there was something called car detailing.  My in-laws did it with a van they were trying to sell.  The van came back looking brand-new.  I was impressed but it didn’t look that much different to me.  Their vehicles were always clean and like new inside anyway.

Then my husband and I borrowed my mother-in-law’s car for a trip to the States.  Our dog went with us – another German Shepherd who shed a lot and got sick on the trip.  Two weeks in the vehicle with dog hair, dog food, dog medicine, fast-food crumbs and wrappers, coffee spills, smoke.   My husband said it will clean up, don’t worry.  I thought we’ll have to buy an identical car and swap them and never ever let her see this one again.

Back home, we took it to a detailer.  I thought for what cleaning that car would cost we probably would be better off buying another one.  Next day, we picked it up.  It was like a brand-new car.  And it cost less than $200.  Before we gave the car back to my mother-in-law, I would sneak up on it and jump in and sniff to see if I could smell any trace of anything.  Only new, clean car smell.  I looked in every nook and cranny – not a crumb to be found.  I was gobsmacked.

And then I knew why my neat tidy young woman didn’t mind selling her neat tidy car to a slob.  It may indeed have been a pigsty when she drove it.  But she’d had it detailed.  What a truly wonderful discovery that was for me.

Resort Towns (Feb. 2/11)

Brighton, in December, although still a fairly bustling city, bore little relation to Brighton in June or August.  Jury often felt there were few things bleaker than a seaside town in winter.

– Martha Grimes 2002, A Richard Jury Novel, The Blue Last

resort towns Port Stanley, on lake ice bankI usually agree with Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury on everything, but not this one.  You could call summer resort towns bleak in winter, but it’s a beautiful bleakness.  I like summer resort towns much better in their off-season.  They can also be lovely in their season.  Sun, sand, fun – that’s why we go.  But, for me, too many of us go.

I went to Brighton once, in April.  It wasn’t as wind-swept and, yes, bleak as it would be in December.  It was cold; there was no bathing in the sea.  But there were the arcades, the beach walks – and, best of all, there were no crowds.

Port Stanley beach in summerI live near a lakeside resort town.  Port Stanley on Lake Erie is beautiful in summer.  Wide expanse of sand beach, wide expanse of fresh water warm for swimming.  Small downtown streets with interesting shops.  A pier with fishing boats tied up or chugging into port.  Teeny cottages cheek by jowl in a rabbit warren of lanes near the beach.  Mansions on the beach and up the hill, built as summer homes for wealthy merchants of a century and more ago.

Lifeguard station in JanuaryI rarely go to Port Stanley in summer.  But I love going in winter.  The beach is empty.  The wind howls in off the lake.  On a good cold day, when your ears are ringing and your eyes streaming from the wind, you can run into Mackies on the beach and warm up with a hot drink or a cheeseburger or hotdog with the famous Mackies sauce.  Walk another block or so and go in the shops, most still open in winter.  Go into a bar and it’s local people, fishermen and schoolteachers, talking about next year’s fishing quotas or whether there’s going to be a ferry or not.  They’re drinking ordinary beer from bottles, not asking for fancy stuff on tap.

Mackies on the beach in resort town Port StanleyGet a take-out pizza or go to a fancy dining room.  There are a lot of good restaurants in Port Stanley, more than in the average small town.  That’s because it’s a resort town, I guess.  The volume of business is there in the summer to support a year-round operation.  That’s nice for the winter visitor – excellent food and no one waiting for your table, wishing you’d hurry up with your crème brûlée and get out of there.

I’ve been in a lot of summer resort towns.  I’ve found I prefer them in their off season.  It’s not that they’re better; they’re just different.  Port Stanley Harbour winterThey’re sleepier, cozier, nicer.  They’re hibernating, getting their strength back to deal with the hordes of sunworshippers, wannabe models, families with overexcited children, slow-walking pensioners.  The off-season is when a town is what, and who, it really is.  And the added bonus, of those in cold climes, is the wind whipping at you, making you feel alive.

(winter photos by Jim Stewart, beach in summer from Environmental Defence.)

Seeing the world the Alzheimer’s way

walking in hallway, space and timeWith Alzheimer’s, how is space and time perceived within your head?  Take walking 20 yards down a hallway, from your room to the dining room.  Halfway through, you can’t remember where you’re going.  How can you not remember what takes maybe a minute to do, even at a walker-assisted pace?

I got a clue from something my husband said when we were trying to puzzle this out.  “Well, when you’re a little kid, a hallway can seem enormously long.  Then when you see it as an adult you realize it’s not at all.”  I said “yeah, but kids are little so they walk slow.  It takes them longer to get down the hallway  so maybe it would seem really long.”  And then the penny dropped for me.

Space and Time

If you’re old and incapacitated, it takes you longer to walk down the hallway, just like it does when you’re a child.  Add in loss of short-term memory, and maybe you indeed are empty tv room in nursing home at dinner timeon a long and winding road.  Someone with Alzheimer’s can forget what was said or done five or 10 seconds before.  Walking those 20 yards to or from the dining room takes longer than that.  So halfway down the hall, that person may have forgotten where they’re coming from or where they’re going.  They’re likely to find their way to their immediate destination because if they keep going straight, they’re going to run into it.  But an hour or two later, trying to find their way back?  Or even that there is a “back” to which to go?

It’s frustrating, also flabbergasting: “your room is down the hall” – “what hall?”  Maybe it’s a little easier to understand if you think of it as a very long walk, like a two hour trek nursing home roadway in winterfrom point A to point B through the woods.  When you reach the end, you probably can’t remember every detail of what the starting point looked like.  You’d have to go back there to refresh your memory.  With Alzheimer’s, maybe walking that hallway is more like a trek through the woods.  The staff are the signposts along the path, pointing out to walkers the right way to go. With space and time, maybe the path will be visible for at least a moment.