Posts Tagged ‘joy’

The Profound Innate Joy in Human Life – Alzheimer’s or Not

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

After a pleasant drive to the Alois Center on a crisp fall day, I arrived and walked down the hall to Ed’s room, wondering what type of mood he was in that day.

When he first saw me his eyes lit up and he said “Oh, it’s you! Oh, I am so happy to see you! You are an angel! I am overwhelmed to see you! Oh, I am overwhelmed!”

He took my hand and kissed it several times, continuing to say he was overwhelmed and didn’t have words to say how happy he was to see me.  His eyes were shining, his face was full of joy, and he held my hand, kissing it again from time to time. That was so typical of Ed – ever the quintessential European gentleman.

He was so happy that he was near tears. Now I don’t have words to describe how his joy and his being near tears both at the same time combined to make a unique emotional experience for me. He was so happy that he almost cried.   While we were sitting on the sofa I picked up The Little Yellow One, one of his beloved stuffed animals, and handed it to him. He reacted joyfully and as though he had never seen it before.

“Oh, the little one. I love him so much!” (He referred to all of his stuffed animals as ‘him.’)

His eyes lit up again and he petted the little animal with loving strokes and then kissed it several times on the top of the head with an affectionate expression on his face.   His extreme joy to see me and his intense love for the little stuffed animal affected me to my core and I realized that some people with Alzheimer’s have the innate capacity to experience joy that can’t be put into words by a normal writer like me.

I was so happy to see Ed in that wonderful state of being, and I felt warm inside all the way home.   If only we all could feel such joy from a simple visit from a friend.

Does anyone else have stories to share about joy with your loved one?







Gifts Can Bring Joy to a Person With Alzheimer’s

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Everyone loves getting presents and people living with Alzheimer’s are no exception.

I originally learned about the importance of gift giving from my beloved Romanian life partner, Ed. When he put on a new pair of shoes I brought him, he exclaimed, “These are the most beautiful shoes I’ve ever had.

They weren’t especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary pair of black Dr. Scholl’s with Velcro fasteners. But to him they were special.

Then one day on a whim I bought him a little yellow stuffed chick.  I was afraid he would be insulted that I took him a child’s toy.

But I didn’t have to wait long. Soon he held it to his chest, petted it and kissed it. Then he looked at me and said, “Thank you! Thank you so much!  I never had such a lovely present in all my life!

More recently the value of giving gifts to people living with Alzheimer’s was reinforced by some of “my ladies” – women I volunteer to visit at a local memory care facility.

One day I took Ethel a small wrapped gift – a decorative note pad with a magnet on the back.  When she saw it her whole face lit up.

She was so excited that I was afraid she was going to be disappointed. So I told her, “It’s just a small gift, Ethel. It’s no big deal.”

Her response was very touching.

“I know, honey, but it’s a present.”

By that she meant she was happy to get a present no matter what it was.

Another “lady” is Ruth. Ruth loves big-band music, so I took her a CD of Glenn Miller. She was ecstatic. It was a true joy to see her so happy.

Here’s a tip: I always wrap the presents, even if they are little things you might not ordinarily wrap, such as a couple of cans of Dr. Pepper I took Ethel. She really enjoyed tearing off the wrapping paper.

You should be prepared, however, for a gift to be instantly set aside and subsequently ignored.

You see, people living with Alzheimer’s apparently enjoy seeing and unwrapping a present more than they actually enjoy having it. I think that’s because they immediately forget about it once they’ve opened it.

The gifts bring them joy for a short time and that’s what matters.

Does anyone else have any stories about giving gifts to their loved one?

Bring Joy to a Person With Alzheimer’s

Monday, February 17th, 2014

I volunteer to visit some women with dementia at a local memory care facility. Ethel is one of my “ladies.” One day I took her a small wrapped gift – just a decorative note pad. When she saw the present her whole face lit up.

As she was beginning to unwrap it I told her, “It’s just a small gift, Ethel. It’s no big deal.”

Her response was very touching.

“I know, honey, but it’s a present.”

By that she meant she was happy to get a present no matter what it was. She meant that getting presents is special.

I always wrap the presents, even if they are little things you might not ordinarily wrap, such as a couple of cans of Dr. Pepper I took Ethel. She enjoyed tearing off the wrapping paper more than she enjoyed the soft drinks.

You should be prepared, however, for a gift to be instantly set aside and subsequently ignored. You see, they enjoy seeing and unwrapping a present more than they enjoy having it. I think that’s because they immediately forget about it once they’ve opened it.

The thing to remember is that people with Alzheimer’s live only in the present. If you understand that you won’t be disappointed when they shunt the present aside.  The main thing is to bring them pleasure in the moment and that’s what a wrapped gift usually does.


Note: I have changed the names of all of the women to protect their privacy.

Denial May Deprive You of Joy

Friday, January 24th, 2014

One of Ed’s closest relatives – we’ll call him Alexandru – was visiting from out of town. One evening they had a long talk. The next day Ed had no memory of the visit, let alone what they had discussed.

I had been telling Alexandru for months that Ed had Alzheimer’s, but he never believed me. He thought Ed’s memory problems were just due to normal aging. In short, he was in a state of deep denial.

Alexandru spent all the rest of his time with Ed trying to refresh his memory of their talk. When it didn’t work, he left for the airport to go home, upset and distraught.

What Alexandru didn’t realize was that Ed would never remember that visit. It would have made more sense to spend their remaining time together discussing something else or interacting in some other way. They could have had a pleasant – maybe even joyous – visit.

All too often loved ones of people with Alzheimer’s are in denial. Hence they spend their time trying to get the person to “act normal.” Trying to get them to remember and do things they will never be able to remember or do.

This only leads to anger and frustration for the visitor (and often for the person with Alzheimer’s as well).

It would be so much better to look for ways to interact at the level of their loved one rather than try to drag that person into our world. Because they can’t function in our world. We can only reach them and enjoy them in their world – at their level.

If you feel that you’re in denial, try interacting in some way that focuses on the present moment rather than one that involves the person’s memory. See how that works. You may be pleasantly surprised.



Puppy’s Magical Visit to a Memory Care Facility

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

I’ve always heard that pets can reach people with Alzheimer’s on a level we cannot. But I was not at all prepared for the profound reaction my little puppy was going to bring about last Thursday. Here’s what happened:


“Oh, my sakes,” Ruth said. “Isn’t she adorable! She’s so tiny. Look at that cute little face!”

That’s what Ruth (one of “My Ladies” with dementia I visit each week), said when I arrived with my itsy bitsy Shih Tzu puppy, Christina.

Christina, ten weeks old and weighing in at just two and a half pounds, hasn’t yet had her first haircut and is a little ball of fuzz. Her eyes peek out from beneath a broad tuft of fur; her tail never stops wagging.

“Thank you so much for bringing her. I love her!”

Then we played a game with Christina. Ruth sat in her well-worn easy chair at one end of her room and I stood at the other end just in front of the door.

Ruth clapped her hands and called Christina, who went racing toward her, then dive-bombed her feet like Babe Ruth sliding into home plate head first.

The second Christina arrived Ruth flung both arms straight up in the air and shouted, “Whee!”

Then I called Christina and she shot back to me like a mighty Hereford in a stampede.

We both laughed so hard we had tears running down our cheeks.

“Thank you so much for bringing her,” Ruth said for the second time.

Given Ruth’s memory, I thought I could probably bring Christina frequently, and every time would be like the first time. What a wonderful gift that would be. So much pleasure for Ruth and so easy for me to do.

Finally, and reluctantly, I told Ruth I had to leave. She walked me to the door. Then we hugged, as always.

“Thank you so much for bringing her,” Ruth said for the third time.

Then she added, “This is my best day since I’ve lived here!”




Visiting Miss Daisy

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

“I’ve come to visit you, Miss. Daisy” I said in a perky tone of voice after introducing myself.

“Me?” she exclaimed – smiling, looking up at me, raising her eyebrows and putting her hand over her heart.

“Yes. You,” I answered, delighted by her excited reaction.

She had already won my heart. It was obvious she was thrilled to have me visit even if she had no earthly idea who I was.

Since retiring a few months ago, I’d decided to volunteer spending time with some local memory care facility residents who don’t have many visitors.

During our first visit I discovered her social skills are so good you’d think she’s volunteering to visit me!

During that first visit, I asked her, “What kind of music do you like?”

Without hesitation she blurted out, “classical!”

So for the next visit I wrapped up a CD of The Nutcracker Suite and gave it to her. She tore off the gift wrap and smiled real big when she saw what was inside.

But after a few minutes, her eyes became downcast, and she said “I’m sorry I don’t have anything to give you.”

To help her save face, I pointed out that she had some cookies on her table.

She laughed lightly and said, “Sure. Help yourself.”

When I soon asked if I could have another she said, “Take as many as you want.

They were some of the best cookies I ever tasted.

Then I put the disc into the slot of the portable CD player I’d brought along. It was immediately obvious that she was familiar with the selections. She smiled, moved in time to the music and used her hand to tap out the rhythms on her lap.

At the end of the visit she said, “I hope I see you again.”

“I’ll come visit you again next week.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful,” she said.

Then – as always – she insisted on walking with me to the front door. I moved beside her as she inched along ever so slowly, unsteadily pushing her walker down the short hallway. We shook hands then I left, feeling so happy that for that half hour at least, I had given her joy.

People With Dementia Can Still Experience Joy

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Ed minus Don - ResizedAmong the general public, Alzheimer’s is typically considered a horrible, cruel and devastating disease that destroys its “victims.” But when I recently interviewed experts on Alzheimer’s a slightly different picture emerged.

I recently interviewed Teepa Snow, nationally renowned expert on Alzheimer’s caregiving. When I asked if she thought people with Alzheimer’s can still enjoy life, she answered, “Yes. Almost all people with dementia, even those in the later stages of the disease, can enjoy life if they have the right support and environment.”

The entire book, Creating Moments of Joy: A Journal for Caregivers, is dedicated to this issue. The author, Jolene Brackey, writes, “We are not able to create a perfectly wonderful day with [people who have Alzheimer’s], but it is absolutely attainable to create perfectly wonderful moments – moments that put smiles on their faces, a twinkle in their eyes, or trigger [pleasant] memories.”

Carole Larkin, owner of Third Age Services in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with dementia issues. When I asked her the same question, she answered, Absolutely. They can and do enjoy life. That enjoyment, when it happens, is moment by moment – pretty much the same way we enjoy life.”

Tom and Karen Brenner are the authors of You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello: The Montessori Method for Positive Dementia Care. Tom answered my question by saying, “Yes. And their enjoyment in life is based, in part, on our enjoyment of them. It’s like a swinging door – it goes both ways.”

Karen added, “We believe we can reach all people with Alzheimer’s, including those others consider unable to communicate in any way. It’s almost always possible to communicate – even with people who have lost their verbal skills.”

The Innate Capacity to Feel Joy – Despite Alzheimer’s

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Here’s a short story from Come Back Early Today that shows that people with Alzheimer’s can still feel joy.

When I entered Ed’s room one day he was asleep and actually snoring in his wheelchair. It took quite a bit of effort to wake him. But after a few moments his eyes lit up, he lifted his head and said,

“Oh! It’s you. Oh! I’m so happy to see you. You’re an angel. I’m overwhelmed to see you.  Oh, I’m overwhelmed!”

“I’m happy to see you, too,” I said, sitting down on the sofa, wondering what was causing such an outpouring of joy and affection.

Then he looked in my eyes and said in a most serious tone of voice, “Since I became in such high admiration of you, other beauties didn’t exist.”

His eyes were shining, his face glowed, and he held my hand, kissing it again and again. I wanted the joy he felt to last, and so I picked up Adorable and put him in his lap, hoping that would elate him even more.

“Oh. The little one,” he said, looking at Adorable. “I love him so much,” he added, picking up the bunny and holding it tightly against his chest.

It was as though he’d never seen Adorable before. His eyes glistened as he caressed the little animal and kissed its head several times. Then he carefully put Adorable on the sofa, turned to me, and kissed my hand again.

His happiness at seeing me, and his affection for Adorable touched me deeply and I realized that no matter how demented Ed might be, he still had the innate capacity to feel joy. It made me feel joyous too.