Activities which used to be easy quickly become difficult for someone with dementia – unless you can find ways to get round them. Overcoming every day obstacles is often one of the biggest challenges carers face. Founder James Ashwell reveals a few items that helped his family cope and helped make his Mum’s life more enjoyable.
‘My mum, Fay, was a trained chef who loved to cook but sharp knives and hot ovens quickly became hazardous. We were advised that she should not continue to cook but this was her passion and core to her sense of purpose. We came up with the idea of using tough cut-resistant gloves (designed for use in poultry plants) to allow her to continue to prepare and cook food safely. I couldn’t find anything available in the shops or online so called up the managing director of a chicken factory and told him our story. He kindly sent us several pairs for free. Looking back, I’d say those gloves allowed her to keep cooking for around another three years allowing her to stay independent and maintain her hobby and a sense of purpose.’
Arts and crafts
‘Mum liked making jewellery but most jewellery making kits are designed for children so my sister Gemma went to craft shops to source a more grown-up selection of beads and accessories. Mum really enjoyed making and wearing the jewellery and as her dementia progressed, Gemma found bigger beads that meant she could continue with this hobby.
Mum loved drawing and colouring, too, but despite searching all the high street shops, again it was difficult to find anything designed for adults.’
DIY games and jigsaws
‘My brother Mark got so fed up watching Mum doing children’s jigsaws that he made some for her himself using family photos, a laminator and some Velcro. It worked brilliantly and had the added bonus of helping Mum remember the people in her family. Personalised jigsaws are now available to buy. At Unforgettable we are working on developing affordable personalised jigsaws specifically designed for those with dementia.’
A big clock
‘One of the first things we bought to help Mum was a large digital clock – the sort designed for an office. Mum started to miss appointments because she was confusing days, dates and times. Dementia clocks hadn’t been invented but this one did help and it responded to radio signals and changed time automatically when the clocks changed so Mum always knew the correct time.’
‘There are no drug treatments available for frontotemporal dementia (Pick’s disease), but the growing range of vitamins and supplements – from Gingko biloba to cod liver oil and fish oils – gave us hope. We made sure she took the lot!’
‘When I was at work, or away from home with friends, I would really worry how Mum was doing and couldn’t really relax and enjoy myself. Sophisticated home monitoring systems weren’t easily available a few years ago (they are now), but I did manage to rig up my own CCTV camera. It wasn’t terribly reliable but was still better than nothing. Knowing about the cameras had the added bonus of making any professional carers feel more comfortable too. They were always happy for us to watch what they were doing with Mum if we wanted to, and it was very reassuring for all of us.’
A bedtime monitor
‘Mum used to get up in the night, making it very hard for us to sleep as we were always listening out for her. A family friend suggested we try a bedtime monitor, which ended up being a real life saver. Having a monitor next to Mum’s bed meant we would know if she woke up, got out of bed or needed help during the night. Knowing we could be with Mum in seconds if she needed us, meant we could all sleep better. We used a simple baby alarm (the sort parents put by a cot) but you can get more sophisticated ones now, not all designed for babies. We definitely slept better.
You may also like to watch James’ story in his video