Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dressing Up: The Only Game

There are not too many things you can do for recreation when you live locked into the memory-impaired floor of an assisted living residence.
Meals are the big events of the day.
Watching television is always an option--including CDs of old movies. Julie Andrews, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
Then there is planned recreation--throwing a beach ball for exercise, singing, playing Bingo.
Mom refuses to play Bingo any more because last September she was studiously covering the numbers called out when she fainted, was taken to the ER, and ended up in the hospital for a week having a pacemaker installed.
But one thing she can still do is dress up. She still has a closet full of nice clothes (down from several closets a few years ago), and she enjoys wearing a different color-coordinated outfit every day, complete with earrings, necklace, and bracelet.
She can't select the clothes any more or put them on in the correct order. That's frontal temporal lobe organization, which she has lost.
Her caregiver or I plan the outfits. She wears them and enjoys the compliments. We usually add a colorful sun hat and one of several unique purses if she is going out.
Beaded or pressed flower or glittery purses are a lot of fun because they always get comments. After all, she no longer has a big house or a car or many other forms of conspicuous consumption.
Even sadder, she no longer has a career in nursing or remembers much about it. She never used to be too interested in clothes when she was planning curriculum or managing public health students in various locations around Baltimore.
"You dress me like a big doll," she said today because I was enjoying putting a new outfit on her.
It's true. I had replaced some worn white cotton pants with a swishy pair of lined white rayon pants, and I had bought a pale pink thin sweater with a white shirt collar and cuffs sewed into it. I did all this alone, without her trying them on, so I was delighted when they actually fit her.
It was a new outfit for Valentine's Day. The caregivers commented at breakfast; at the jewelers the sales clerks commented. (We went there to get two rings soldered together. The opal kept slipping inside to her palm, bothering her, causing her to become obsessed about it.)
Shopping is something she can still do too, if she has someone with her to make the choices and handle her debit card.
Gambling is another activity that people in dementia can enjoy, as we found out two years ago when we visited Reynold in Laughlin Nevada. Anyone can put coins in a slot machine and pull the handle.
I've never had much interest in dressing nicely or in shopping or gambling. Now that I know they're good activities for the mentally impaired, I'm even less interested.

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