I remember a Sunday School lesson I taught to a group of junior high students a few years ago. I called it "GIGO": garbage in, garbage out. The term came from the computing world; if the programming is bad, then the output will be flawed as well. The analogy drawn for my group was this: we can't be careless about the material we choose to see and hear and nevertheless expect to behave with respect and kindness toward other people. Just as we should not subsist on a diet of junk food with no healthy food choices, we also have a responsibility to guard what we view and hear in order to protect our hearts and minds.
I was slow to extend this principle to my caregiving practices for my mother. I knew I needed to provide reading material for her, but it did not at first occur to me to monitor what she read based on what I know about her ability to comprehend. For my mother and, I assume, for most folks in the mid-stages of Alzheimer's, the ability to comprehend multiple layers of meaning is compromised. She is very straight-forward and the surface message is all she receives.
Musical selections are important as well. Music bypasses the mind and travels straight to the emotions, and this affords a wonderful opportunity to create a positive mood for dementia patients. I make sure Mom's music selections are upbeat. Some of the music she once enjoyed has romantic overtones that now cause her to feel melancholy, for example. Perhaps it reminds her of what she has lost or causes her to miss my dad or long for youth; whatever the reason I've noticed she seems sad after hearing certain melodies. Christian Gospel and patriotic music put her in a wonderful mood. Classical piano or guitar is soothing for her.
I've know all this but recently I nevertheless made a caregiving error (aka, dumb mistake) that I allowed to persist over weeks of time. I'd been to an author's event and had visited with a lady who had written an inviting-looking book that sported a cute title and attractive cover illustration. I purchased a copy and when I returned home, thumbed through the pages and noted the reading level was in line with Mom's ability. Without actually reading the book myself, I gave it to Mom. Over several weeks of time she read this book repeatedly, as she does, and during that same time frame her attitude deteriorated. She was angry and often used curse words that before this time had appeared in her conversation infrequently. I thought she was moving to a more advanced stage of Alzheimer's.
However, while straightening her chairside table I picked up that attractive book I'd purchased at the author's event and began to read. I was not exactly shocked; disappointed was more my response. What had seemed like a wholesome book of the "Little House on the Prairie" genre was full of unnecessarily crude descriptions and language. I happened to flip open to a phrase Mom had begun to use often, "I sure as (expletive deleted) am not going to do that..."
I removed that book from Mom's table and placed the devotional I wrote for her into her hands. Within two days time her attitude had improved and her outlook was sunny once again.
My mother has lost the ability to remember that a given reading selection may cause her to feel depressed, and she no longer knows how to change CD's in her player or even how to press the "off" button. It is my responsibility as Mom's caregiver to monitor her responses and provide music, reading, and TV/movie selections that she responds to in a positive way.