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Monday, November 3, 2008

Gift Resources

Because the holidays are rapidly approaching, this issue is devoted entirely to providing resources and gift ideas for people with dementia. It contains a lot of information I hope you find useful, but it can’t possibly cover everything you need to know.
What I hope it does provide, is a sense of what to look for. Does the person you are caring for need assistive devices, comforting items, or exercises to keep his brain engaged? Are you looking for something that can be adapted and enjoyed by the whole family or something that meets the specific tastes and needs of the person you are caring for? Are you an activity director who needs fresh ideas for a lot of people? This issue will, I hope, give suggestions for all of the above.

One caution: With the exception of The Alzheimer’s Store, don’t concentrate on the Alzheimer’s section of catalogs. We have come a long way in understanding how to engage people with Alzheimer’s disease, but unfortunately, many of the children’s toys I railed against a decade ago are still the chief things being offered in such catalog sections. If you’re not interested in an item, the person with AD isn’t likely to be either. Choose what you have enthusiasm for. I will talk more in future issues about how to introduce new products and activities.

Not so long ago, there were many catalog companies competing for the “activities for seniors” market, and a number of them had special sections for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Now I would say there are seven worth considering. They are:
The Alzheimer’s Store
Bi-folkal Productions, Inc.
Flaghouse Activities for Life
Nasco – Senior Activities
S&S Prime Life

Of these, I know the owners of the first four, all of whom are wonderful, caring, committed individuals, who are working hard to “do good” while doing well through their small businesses. The last three are huge catalog companies for whom senior activities is just part of a larger market. They carry many of the same products, and many of ElderSong’s products, since ElderSong produces a lot that is original. All of them have products that work both in the home and in “senior settings” such as day centers and residential care, but only the Alzheimer’s Store is focused specifically on items appropriate for people with dementia, and probably has a bigger family caregiver audience than the others.

Here is a brief critique of each of their catalogs:

The Alzheimer’s Store
Mark and Ellen Warner began the Alzheimer’s Store 7+ years ago and at the time of this writing, are just about to produce a new catalog. Unlike the other catalogs here, they offer practical assistive devices as well as activity products. One of their most popular items has been a memory phone that allows a person to call someone simply by touching his picture. With nine pictures to choose from, it’s a device any of us might enjoy, but the new catalog offers a simpler version with only three pictures that is likely to be easier for people with dementia to use. As Ellen notes, they are dedicated to enabling people with dementia to stay at home longer, and if they don’t carry a product, they will help callers find it somewhere else.

At the same time, they have many long-term care clients who find unusual and useful activity products there such as the textured, tactile lap pillow, purring kitty, and exercise videos appropriate for the person with AD. You will hear more about some of these things in the months ahead.

The Alzheimer’s Store carries two quality products specifically made for people with AD whose developers I know, and whose commitment I can attest to. Unlock the Memories is a DVD for reminiscence with trivia questions and several levels of clues to the answers. The one for the 1950s seems particularly suited to today’s elders. Front Row Seat is a series of sing-along DVDs that I promoted in the June 2008 newsletter in which the person listening is encouraged to participate as if she had a front row seat.

Also check out Mark and Ellen’s free Alzheimer’s Daily News at http://www.alznews.org/.

800-327-4269Don Bastian started his company 30 years ago with a focus on “helping people with cognitive disabilities succeed at school, work and life.” Although originally aimed at young adults, he eventually realized that his products could also be adapted for older adults, including those with dementia. I first learned about his company through my friend Marge Engelman, PhD, whose Aerobics of the Mind book and Mental Fitness cards he began producing seven or eight years ago. She has gone on to develop other products with him, including Whole Brain Workouts and Thinking Cards. I like all her work, although it must be said that not all can be readily adapted for people with dementia. They are, however, good brain workouts for the rest of us. Their “Aging Resources” catalog is small and manageable.

Bi-folkal Productions, Inc.
More than 30 years ago, Lynne Martin Erickson co-founded Bi-folkal Productions which produces comprehensive, multi-sensory reminiscence kits on topics from fashion, farm life, fall, and the fifties to wartime and worklife. There are also “mini-kits” which bring the total topics to about 30. While intended initially for libraries (and they are still widely found there), in more recent years they have been sold in parts that are easy (and less expensive) for both families and professionals to use. A typical kit is likely to contain slides or a CD or DVD, music, skits, trivia, booklets and handouts, props, games, guidebooks – enough material to devote a week’s worth of programming to the topic.

Lynne is not only amazingly thorough in her research (she’s a former librarian herself), but creates with a sense of humor. On life in the 1950s, for example, she included a Good Housekeeping article that described how a wife should greet her husband when he returned from his hard day of work, including taking off his shoes, arranging his pillow, offering a cool drink, keeping the children quiet and never complaining, because “A good wife always knows her place.”

Beckie Karras is a board-certified music therapist who worked in elder care settings for many years before founding ElderSong in 1985. Her background explains the catalog’s heavy emphasis on musical and reminiscence products. She has written a number of books herself and has published the work of others, and these books appear in numerous other catalogs under the ElderSong brand.

Many of the books call for filling in blanks, singing familiar songs, and reminiscing on everyday topics, all of which either work well with people with dementia or are easily adapted for them. I am especially fond of the You Be the Judge series by Nancy Dezan that takes real court cases and asks participants to choose what the verdict should be, Journey through the 20th Century, Down Memory Lane (2nd edition), and Remembering Our Town, all of which are fun for the well elderly, too. It’s no surprise that Beckie’s musical selections are also carefully chosen.

Dover Publications
Before moving on to the large catalogs, I want to mention the Dover specialty books. Dover is a company with products I like and a customer service policy I find frustrating because there is no way to reach them by phone unless you send a fax. Their free “Antiques and Architecture” catalog has many books I recommend, all at a reasonable price, but you must scroll to the bottom of the Dover website page to order it.

Here are some of the books they publish that are great for reminiscing with people with AD:
· Their “Everyday Fashions” series feature excerpts from Sears catalogs and are grouped by decades, 1920s through the 60s. For today’s older adults, the 40s and 50s are most likely to be relevant.
· For the men who are fascinated with transportation, there are books on trains, planes, cars and ships.
· If you happen to be from New York City, there are half a dozen books of old photographs.
· There are also loads of books featuring photographs and floor plans of various styles of houses in various time periods which are super for drawing out memories of home life. Among my favorites are 101 Classic Homes of the Twenties and 100 Small Houses of the Thirties.

Flaghouse Activities for Life

Nasco – Senior Activities

S&S Prime Life

These three catalogs undoubtedly see themselves as distinctive and would not want me to group them together, but they are all aimed at activity directors and have a lot of overlap.
· S&S has long been known for its craft products and their “Prime Life” catalog, aimed at seniors, still has more than 200 pages of crafts. However, they also have categories like Alzheimer’s resources, trivia and reminiscing, movement therapy and music therapy, among others.
· Flaghouse focused exclusively on the developmentally disabled and rehab populations for many years, until the 1990s when they became THE place to go for Snoezlin (sensory stimulation) equipment. At the time I found them gimmicky and overpriced, but they have since gotten a better sense of the market, and I like them a whole lot better.
· Nasco has been the most consistent in offering a wide range of products for older adults. Their “Senior Activities” catalog features many products from Attainment, Bi-folkal, Dover, ElderSong and ElderGames, the last of which produced a bunch of trivia and reminiscence booklets/print materials in the late 1980s which are still selling well.

Some specific products

What specifically do I like? Here are a few ideas:
· Both Nasco and S&S have a variety of large-piece puzzles with adult-appropriate pictures, some with as few as 12 pieces.
· S&S also has a number of products to encourage movement in amusing ways such as animal-shaped vinyl bean bags, foam hand paddles that can be used with balloons and other light-weight balls, and softly floating juggling scarves that make exercise colorful and gentle.
· Nasco has a fascinating product with the completely uninteresting name of “Rechargeable 3 Balls with Adapter,” that I have seen used as a wonderful distracter, calmer. The balls, each about 3+ inches in diameter, change to varying pretty pastel colors before your eyes, and can be tossed, rolled and squeezed. I have been critical at times in the past about Snoezlin (sensory stimulation) rooms because they are expensive, labor intensive and under-used, but these glowing balls can be used both as a sensory stimulator or calming tool in a group or a person’s own room – a much simpler solution for agitation.
· Flaghouse has a pedal exerciser that can be placed in front of a seated person’s chair so that he can exercise his legs while watching TV or watching the birds outside the window. This is a simple tool for increasing physical activity that is not always easy to find in a day of elaborate equipment.
· All seven of the stores we have mentioned have videotapes and DVDs, but Nasco seems to have the most wide-ranging collection. I am a big believer in getting people to laugh, so I am particularly fond of Reader’s Digest Legends of Comedy Video Series, The Best of Minnie Pearl Video, The Lucy Show Video Set, and the Jack Benny Show DVD Set.
· I would also recommend the Johnny Carson videos or DVDs, which I haven’t seen in these catalogs but are widely available online. Here’s one source: http://www.asseenontv.com/prod-pages/johnny_carson_DVD.html?gid. Many of today’s elders went to bed for 20+ years with a smile on their faces because of Johnny Carson. For many people with AD, who find that current late-night comics are on too late and are too loud, brash, and fast-paced, being able to watch Johnny Carson again anytime they wished would be a delight.

Many products intended for a wide range of consumers can be easily adapted for people with dementia. Blokus, for example, is a strategy game available from S&S and found in many toy stores that is “played” by people with dementia by simply manipulating the plastic tiles that slip easily into place across the board to make colorful designs. Similarly, Connect Four, also available from S&S, will not succeed if you play to win, but many people with AD seem to enjoy dropping the poker chip-like pieces into the slots.

Based on their experiences as leaders in an adult day center, Joan Wheeler and Peggy Shelley began their company, Shake Loose a Memory (http://shakelooseamemory.com/productsslam.html) in the mid-1990s with one product with that name, and have since added a half dozen more. Their core philosophy is "When people play our games, they feel good about themselves!" All of the games, with the exception of Category Flip, which is about arranging cards in categories, are based on the idea of rolling a die and choosing a card with a matching number of dots on the back. Shake Loose a Memory uses everyday experiences such as planting a garden to jump start reminiscences. All were designed specifically for people with memory impairment but most also work well intergenerationally.

S&S carries Shake Loose a Memory, but not Shake Out the Truth, which is my favorite. Everyone in the group gets a card with “YES” on one side and “NO’ on the other. One person rolls the die, chooses a card and reads it aloud. Everyone in the group guesses whether the statement is true for that person, and when they have all voted yes or no, the person who rolled the die reveals the truth. Most of the questions are innocuous – I have a summer birthday, I had a job while going to high school – but some are more provocative: I have won money gambling, I have given a horse a bath, I have eaten a raw egg. Discussion is easily stimulated among all players with such memories.

One quick tip: For any game that requires dice, I usually substitute the 2-1/2 X 2-1/2-inch foam dice available from Oriental Trading which are $8.99 per dozen (http://www.orientaltrading.com/, Item # IN-39/198) because they are easier for arthritic hands to handle and aging eyes to see. For more realistic over-sized dice, The Alzheimer’s Store has their own version.

Bucky Pillow and other comforts
One thing that has always disturbed me in residential care settings is seeing a person who has fallen asleep in his wheelchair or on a couch with his head fallen to the back or side in a strained position that will certainly ache when he awakens. When I discovered Bucky Pillows a decade ago, I liked them immediately because they were filled with highly malleable buckwheat hulls that meant they could be shaken to provide support where it was most needed. Unlike neck pillows that are bulbous affairs inflated like a toddler’s swim ring, Bucky Pillows could be adjusted so that they provided support for the head that falls to one side, or the elbow or back that needs a little something tucked beneath or behind it.

In the intervening years, Bucky has broadened its range of comforting products and now offers neck rests, pillows and masks in varying covers that can be heated, cooled and machine-washed. Order a charcoal Bucky pillow now by clicking here, or a lavender one by clicking here. More details at http://www.bucky.com/catalog/controller.php?pg=welcome.

One of the things I worry most about with people who have advanced dementia, especially in winter, is that they will be cold and unable to tell anyone directly. If someone’s hands or feet are cold to the touch, that person is cold, and probably needs a shawl, sweater, gloves, an old-fashioned muff, long pants, knee socks, slippers, a hat, a blanket or all of the above even when indoors! There is a reason that people long ago slept with nightcaps and heated their sheets with warm bricks. Even in Florida where we don’t set our thermostats any higher than northerners do, I spend much of the winter with a cloth-covered corn-filled bag that I have heated in the microwave on my lap or behind my back. A cold person is an uncomfortable person who may show his discomfort with pacing, agitation or crabbiness. A simple warm-up can work wonders.

In some cases, people with dementia are also comforted by dolls or stuffed animals. I don’t specifically promote such items, but I have seen the joy they can bring, and would never consider depriving anyone who wants one. (The Alzheimer’s Store owners have had highly positive feedback from the dolls they carry.) Many people are also soothed by music (especially when listened to through earphones that shut out distracting noises) or by DVDs of nature scenes, puppies and baby faces, all of which have been designed to calm. These are all readily available through the catalogs mentioned above.

My products

I have long crusaded for interesting and adult games for adults, and have limited supplies of four wooden items that I had personally designed in Thailand. All four, however, work well with people of all ages, including children.

Stir-it-up Marimba and Slapping Slats
These rhythm instruments are based on American models and take advantage of the natural remaining abilities of people with AD.

The Stir-it-up Marimba is a cylindrical drum that is held in the palm of one hand and stirred with the other hand using the drumstick, as if one were stirring a cake mix in a bowl. Obviously each slat on the cylinder can be individually struck to make its own note, but when stirred, produces a sound something like an old-fashioned coffee pot percolating. It is made of monkey wood, chosen for its resonating properties, and all of the edges have been rounded so that it is comforting to hold.

The slapping slats are much simpler: one end is held in each hand and the rhythmic sound is created by rocking your hands back and forth.

Cube puzzle and square puzzle
Both of these are common toys in Thailand, but I had them specially adapted because I knew that wood is intrinsically pleasant to hold and manipulate, as long as there are no sharp edges. Therefore, all the pieces have rounded edges so that they fit comfortably in the hands. Both pieces also come with instructions for solving, and as real puzzles, are a challenge for any age. However, my goal was to provide a challenge for the person who wants a real brain exercise and to provide pleasing wooden pieces to hold or rearrange into patterns or sculptures for the person who has AD.

The cube puzzle is about 4 inches on each side with a base and a top that fits neatly over the puzzle when it is put together correctly.

The square puzzle has its own wooden case, and on the inside bottom of the case one solution to the puzzle is painted so that if one is in a hurry to solve it or clean-up, it’s easy to do so. However, we provide a simple sheet of white paper to place over the painted solution so that it becomes a real challenge again, and so that an elderly person can see the individual pieces more easily in the box.

Supplies are limited. Prices do not include shipping.
Stir-it-up Marimba, $20 Slapping slate, $10
Cube puzzle, $12 Square puzzle, $28.
To order and of these items, click here.

Standard shipping is $10 for the square puzzle, due to its weight, and $6.95 for each of the others when ordered individually. Add $1.50 for each additional item. Add $2.50 for each additional square puzzle.

Surely that’s enough for now!

Wiser Now Products

Alzheimer’s Basic Caregiving – an ABC Guide and Activities of Daily Living – an ADL Guide for Alzheimer’s Care provide essential information for any family or professional caregiver for just $7.95 each or $15/set. (The books are available at reduced prices in quantity.) This newsletter, Wiser Now Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Tips, which covers topics the books don’t, is just $18 for a yearly subscription, also with group discounts available. Order all of these items at http://www.wisernowalz.com/. Wiser Now, Inc. also publishes Brain Aerobics Weekly. See a sample or place an order at http://www.brainaerobicsweekly.com/.
All of the above and more (including our free weekly Just a Bite digest) can also be found at our main website: http://www.wisernow.com/.
Contact Kathy@wisernow.com or call 800-999-0795 (9-5 Eastern time) to place an order today!

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