What You Don’t Know About Dementia: You Can Ride the Waterslide

Bob has dementia. He also loves waterslides. In his late 80s, he dreamed of going down one and why shouldn’t he? If that’s what sparks you – we say go for it. Even if it means our team has to put on a bathing suit and join the fun.

We know a lot about what dementia takes away – brain function, thinking skills, cognition, even activities of daily life. Add to that list behavior and relationship changes too, as you adapt to a new normal. But dementia is not a normal part of aging. It’s a disease which covers a wide-range of conditions like Alzheimer’s accounting for 60-80% of dementia cases.

Living with dementia can be an eye-opening experience for all who are affected. That’s where Betty was several years ago as the primary caregiver for her husband, Bob. She had questions about how best to care for her active husband who enjoyed taking walks around the pond and connecting with others on campus. How could she help him savor his spark with a progressing dementia diagnosis?  She decided to stop by the Lifesprk office on campus at Parkshore in Saint Louis Park, MN where she and Bob lived -it was her first interaction with Lifesprk.

The initial conversation with Kathy, a Lifesprk nurse, was about Bob and who he is as a person, not someone defined by dementia. It led to an interesting revelation – Bob loves waterslides and ever since he moved to Parkshore he wanted to go down one. Ironically, at the same time, Lifesprk was hosting an employee appreciation at a local park where it just so happens was a waterslide. Betty asked if it were possible for Bob to go with them and possibly ride the waterslide.

Kathy asked Lori, one of our Lifesprk caregivers, if she’d be willing to accompany Bob. “If that’s what it takes to put a spark in someone’s eye, I’m in,” said Lori. Off they went down the slide – six times for Bob! On their walk back to campus he said to Lori, “I think I’m going to need a nap.”  He later told the campus activities director, “I wore out those three purple ladies!” (Referring to Lifesprk’s purple colored shirts.)

Betty wrote in a thank you note to the team days later, “Little did you know what you were getting into! He had such a great time and is still talking about it to everyone he sees. You were wonderful to provide him with this opportunity. I appreciate it more than words can say.” Soon after, Bob became a client and Kristine Pederson became his Life Care Manager.

The Spark Continues…

Fast forward three years, and Betty still describes Bob as a big kid at the age of 90 whose love for water and amusement parks continues. He shared a similar goal with Kristine once again saying how he wanted to ride the Wild Thing Roller Coaster at Valley Fair in Shakopee, MN.

This time was a little different though. After being Bob’s primary caregiver for years, Bob’s wife was fatigued caring for him as his dementia progressed. They decided it was best to move Bob to memory care to give both additional support. The move was hard on Bob so Kristine decided to give him something to focus on – she told him they would go to the Wild Thing Roller Coaster. While they waited for the weather to warm up, Kristine created a book with pictures of Valley Fair that the memory care staff could use to re-direct his behavior, which can often sway with progressive dementia, reminding him of where they were headed.  It worked perfectly to calm his moods and get him excited for what was ahead.

The weather finally warmed up and Bob was thrilled for his big day. “We rode the Wild Thing twice, the High Roller twice, Power Tower, and Ferris Wheel,” recalled Kristine. “In fact, Bob was almost kicked off the ride for trying to make the seat swing more. He really is a big kid at heart.”

Naturally the day ended with a trip to the water park. “Bob went in the wave pool and giggled every time the waves hit him,” laughed Kristine. “He sat back and enjoyed the lazy river with the raging rapids and after a brief rest in a lounge chair by the pool, he was raring to go again.  By the end of the day Kim Pearson, another LCM who joined us for the day, and I were tired. Bob though was ready for more rides. I don’t know how he had the energy!”

After a day of rides, water parks, and three ice creams they all headed back to Parkshore tired yet inspired by the day. Perhaps that’s what we don’t know about dementia – just when you think you can’t manage the challenges of the disease you find a spark, and you’re ready for more.  That’s how Bob lives with dementia. That’s also the importance of aging magnificently –disease and chronic illness can rob seniors of so much, but certainly not their spark. Wonder where Bob will go next?!

Need help sparking a loved one? Call us with your questions and if you need additional support, schedule a free consultation and we’ll help you and your loved one age magnificently.