Macaroni isn’t just for eating; it’s also for learning. In college, I was a tutor for a third-grade boy who had trouble with spelling. When traditional flash cards didn’t help, I bought a bag of alphabet macaroni and spread them out on the table. I’d say the word, and he’d spell it by putting together the letters of macaroni. It took longer than spelling them out loud or writing them on paper, but there was something about the tactile approach, the “feel” of the letters that helped him learn and remember.
Several years ago, when my mother’s dementia was in the middle stage and she still responded to sensory stimuli, I tried alphabet cookies. I’d spread them out on the table, and together we’d try to create cookie words and sentences with the letters. She would participate for more than an hour at a time, probably because she also ate the letters she thought she didn’t need. It was a fun activity to share, and she was notably more alert and happy afterwards.
September is WORLD ALZHEIMER’S MONTH. Every day there seems to be new studies, new results, new trial drugs, etc., about the best way to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia. My dad died of Alzheimer’s and my mom has very advanced dementia, so I try to stay current, but sometimes it’s overwhelming. One of the goals of my blog is to share the things that have helped one or both of my parents, at least temporarily. The overall most successful lesson I’ve learned is this: Make the most of sensory details.
Here are a few suggestions: play CDs of music and songs they might remember; gently rub vanilla-scented lotion on their hands as you share a memory of a holiday or something you used to do together; bake cookies (frozen dough is great when sprinkled with cinnamon before baking); share popcorn as you watch a familiar TV program, or assemble a child-sized puzzle together. If you have other suggestions, please share them with us.
World Alzheimer’s Month is not a tribute to the disease, but a reminder that it’s a very real international threat. It’s also a reminder to do what we can to help those who suffer with the disease, and a nudge to do the best we can to help ourselves remain alert. So it’s okay to play with your food this month, especially if it’s alphabet food that will keep you thinking…and laughing!