Heather O’Neil cares for her mum Margaret who was diagnosed with mixed dementia in 2012. Here she explains why creative hobbies are still so important for Margaret
I believe the most important part of caring for Mum is scheduling in quality time for crafts, music and animals. I use Art Therapy, Music Therapy and Pet Therapy in our daily routine and have seen some great results.
I believe in ‘creative caring,’ by this I mean thinking outside the box, adapting to the ever-changing circumstances that dementia throws at us in the best way I can to ensure, most of all, that my mum is happy. Alzheimer’s has taken her memory … I refuse to allow it to take her happiness.
Here are some of the therapies that we use and the fun activities we get up to.
Art Therapy this is becoming one of the most thoroughly documented alternative therapies for Alzheimer’s disease. Mum has always been very creative. An accomplished artist and seamstress, she could turn her hand to anything. I always make sure that we always have a craft project on the go, whether it’s making hand made cards, paper weights from stones and shells or making crepe paper flowers. For mum, all these activities offer substantial rewards, giving her a way to express herself, a sense of personal accomplishment and the satisfaction of completion, as well as the joy of the artistic process.
Pet Therapy is now widely recognised for its health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate and reducing stress. Animals have been proved to stimulate social interaction and ease agitation in people with dementia. Being an animal lover, Mum has always kept pets and at present has a Siamese cross Ragdoll cat called Gabby who she absolutely adores. I make sure she gets to be around animals as much as possible. We visit a petting farm once a week and go down to the local river to feed the ducks as often as the weather allows!
Music Therapy is now widely used in Dementia care. The power of music, especially singing, seems to reach parts of the damaged brain in ways other forms of communication cannot. The Alzheimer’s Society has arranged a Befriender to take Mum to Singing for the Brain sessions twice a month which she enjoys immensely! I also play all her favourite music from the 40s and 50s in the background most of the day which she thoroughly enjoys and finds very comforting.
There are many other creative activities we enjoy doing together too – jigsaw puzzles, colouring books, crossword puzzles, watching funny animal videos online and looking at old photographs of her childhood. Fortunately, Mum’s long term memory is still excellent so photos of her growing up can bring great happiness.
I absolutely treasure this time with my mum…she’s such a joy to care for.
Feeling inspired? For more ideas from Heather take a look at her blog.