Physical objects can powerfully connect us to memories. As an example I give you...a toaster. This is no ordinary Sunbeam Thinline Self Lowering toaster (also known as the "Touch n Toast"). It's the one from my grandparents' farmhouse kitchen, that went with them after they sold the farm and moved into the house in Traer, that they took with them when they moved to the condo in Cedar Rapids, that we brought to the casa in the Hollywood Hills after they had both passed, that now resides at my brother's house in Woodland Hills. And, by all accounts, still makes a damn fine piece of toast. Made even better by adding two pats of Land O' Lakes Salted butter.
It's a very special object to me, that isn't worth much in material terms -- I found one on eBay for $33.87 which is honestly more than I thought, and yet, why not $34? -- but it connects me to my past in a way that feels good to me. Objects and treasures like these helped me cope with losing Mom to Alzheimer's when she had the disease and later after it took her from us. They brought back the best memories of her then, and they keep her with me now.
The stories that surround objects are fun and even therapeutic to share. My friend Shannon Uschold gets this and created https://www.generationstory.com, an app that lets you share the stories of the toasters in your life.
This weekend my family gathered together in Los Angeles for the annual Walk4Alz fundraiser, and just before it began my sister pulled a little memento out of her pocket: Mom's Sunrise name tag. Without knowing her history you might guess that Molly had worked at Sunrise, but in fact she lived the last year of her life there as a memory care resident.
The sight of her name tag reminded me of her caregivers, and the great job they did personalizing her care. Even though Mom had a very difficult time with verbal communication, they noticed right away that she loved to help out. She would often help clean up after meals, or assist other residents with activities and crafts. The caregivers spotted a fellow caregiver in Mom so they decided to make her feel like a part of the staff, and had a real Sunrise name tag made for her. She really liked it. Throughout her life Mom was an incredibly productive person and Alzheimer's stole that from her late in life. You could that when she was helping out with her name tag on she felt useful, and connected to her true self.
We created the Care Card to help care providers understand the unique needs and preferences of their clients or residents when they first meet them, and as they evolve. There is a tab for tips on "How to calm me down" for those times when things aren't going so well. On my Mom's I would have put "Give me a task or a chore to do." The Sunrise team got to know her as a person and kicked it up a notch. They made her a part of the team!
Jeff Gray | Founder & CEO
The Memory Kit
When my Mom was battling Alzheimer's there was a moment when I realized that a person meeting for her for the first time would not be meeting the person that I knew and loved. The disease had simply taken too much.
It's heartbreaking for anyone caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia when the disease progresses to that point. As sad as it was to get to that place, I also realized that at some point it would have a profound impact on her care. Molly Gray was a delightfully, sometimes frustratingly, quirky person. So many little things could bother her, or make her happy. And Alzheimer's would amplify her reactions to them to the point where they weren't so "little" anymore. When we needed professional home care, and later memory care, our whole family worried about her comfort. We could could still understand her. We still "got" her. But how in the world could a stranger connect with her?
As it turned out our worries were not unfounded in many situations. Adult day care, home care, hospital stays and rehab centers were disasters.* We felt we couldn't leave Mom's side for a second, and we had to repeatedly educate the people caring for her about her personal preferences and sensitivities. It was frustrating for us, but mainly our hearts were breaking for Mom because she simply could not speak up for herself.
They say that "necessity is the mother of invention" but I think for The Memory Kit pain, frustration and compassion played the larger roles. Our goal in creating the Care Companion and Care Card was to make life more comfortable for people living with Alzheimer's/dementia, and to provide some peace of mind for their families. Both products are designed, with the help of experts, to enable your loved one's caregivers to get to know them and understand their needs when you're not there.
*Not every experience we had with care providers and healthcare professionals was bad. We made a change in Mom's primary care physician to a doctor who can accurately be called an angel, and the team at Sunrise in Beverly Hills was nothing short of amazing. They are a part of our family now.
My mom loved pens and was always buying them. She grew up in a time when we wrote to one another, when two people would have long and meaningful correspondence with one another. You could get to know a person writing to them, update them on life's biggest biggest moments putting pen to paper, or fall more in love with them with every lick of a stamp. Can you imagine such a thing today?
Molly had this beautiful, distinctive handwriting. She printed instead of writing in cursive, but each letter was angled and fluid; her handwriting was beautiful to look at. She loved to write, and she had a great eye for the best writing instruments. If you ever borrowed a pen from her, you wanted to steal it.
This is one of those little things that was a part of the big person that was Molly Gray. It's something you can't find in a photo, and album, or a video. You had to be close to her and love her to know it. I saved it in her Memory Kit under "Little Things". -Jeff
Care card Blog
If you have a loved one receiving long term care The Care Card can help ensure that their needs and preferences are always met.