|Mom and our oldest grandson, Daniel, when he was 2.|
Daniel's little brother, Logan, who is now exactly the age Daniel is in the photo above, spent time with Mom yesterday afternoon. I'd brought him out to bake cookies with Grammy (me), but as soon as he arrived he announced, "I'm goin' in to see Roof. (My mom's name is Anna Ruth, and the kids are instructed to call her "Grandma Ruth," but "Roof" is Logan's abbreviated form of her name.)
No one had asked Logan to visit Mom, but as toddlers, both my grandsons have been delightfully uninhibited by any need to distance themselves from disease-related behaviors. It isn't that they don't notice dementia symptoms, but more that small children are governed by a compassion that spurs them to find a way to communicate. Logan strutted into Mom's apartment, and when she didn't look up he said loudly, "HI ROOF!" Mom responded with delight.
Now, Logan is very different from his brother, and does not give hugs unless 1) they are his idea and 2) the hug-recipient is his mother or father. But he has a precious empathy for his great grandmother nonetheless, and he surveyed her appraisingly, hands on his hips. After a few moments of thought, he attempted to entertain her with some dance steps, but Mom soon lost interest. And so he ran to his toy cupboard and said, "I need a game that Gamma Roof an' me can play togevver."
I was at a loss; Mom isn't very interactive, and Logan wasn't going to sit side-by-side with her in the chair with a book as Daniel once had done. As I hemmed and hawed, Logan decided to take matters into his own hands. Turns out that in his mind, a good game was one in which Logan displayed talent and Grandma Ruth's attention did not waver.
He chose a box of magnets and metal connectors and sat down with them at the foot of Mom's chair. "Look at 'dis, Roof!" he said...and he proceeded to create amazing sculptures and then hold them up for her to admire. Whenever her attention seemed to fade he would stand up, say her name, and redirect her to attentiveness; it reminded me very much of how I used to speak to a class of first graders when their attention wandered. The amazing thing about Logan's interaction with Mom is that although he had to work hard to keep her engaged, he managed to do so for nearly 30 minutes. I'm astounded that two months short of his third birthday, Logan had the fortitude to sustain a social-type interaction with her for a longer period of time than her Alzheimer's has allowed since--well, since the last time Logan visited.
Sometimes, parents may feel they are protecting their little ones by preventing them from contact with elderly relatives, but young children are uninhibited by fear of of dementia-related behaviors. Of course the interactions must be closely monitored, and you wouldn't expose a child to angry or violent behaviors. But when the child is given a measure of control over the situation and the dementia patient responds with smiles, the results can be heartwarming.