Here we are in the holiday gift giving season wondering what to get our memory challenged loved ones. As I look at gift suggestions for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients I see lots of telephones with big numbers, puzzle books and dvd collections of old movies. Post it notes, erasable white boards, bathrobes and slippers, all good helpful gifts but all reminders of decline and the need for more assistance.
What about a gift that looks forward and gives the recipient the chance to participate in technology on their own terms and at their own skill level. An iPad is simple to use – whether or not you agree that it’s a good thing, plenty of toddlers and babies are playing with iPads, so why assume that an 85 year old with memory challenges can’t enjoy some games, videos or pictures?
The SilverLark games for iPad are enjoyed by everyone but simple enough for people with fairly advanced stage Alzheimer’s or dementia to play. Using your own photos of family, pets, memories and caregivers, SilverLark provides an opportunity to spark old memories and share time together. There are plenty of other ways your loved one might use an iPad – maybe to watch a video of grandchildren or listen to music, or be creative using a simple art program like Kaleidoscope. Our experience shows that iPads encourage socialization because Grandma will be eager to show off her pictures and share games.
And if you’re getting an iPad for yourself, consider installing SilverLark and some other simple games to share during holiday visits this year. It will give you or your children a new way to spend time during your visit and you may find that your loved one appreciates being included in the technology revolution!
Car Talk has always been our favorite NPR talk show and we’re saddened to read that Tom Magliozzi has died due to complications from Alzheimer’s. The Car Talk post is a wonderful tribute and sweet read. They suggest:
“In lieu of donations or rotten fish, we ask that folks make a donation to their favorite public radio station in his memory or to the Alzheimer’s Association.”
The idea for SilverLark came about 3 years ago when my mother fell and broke her hip. It was then that her decline into dementia started to accelerate. In the convalescent care facility after her surgery, a therapist had her do memory games like sorting cards or plastic shapes or the toddler game where you guide beads along a wire. My mother hated everything the therapist tried, maybe in part from frustration but most definitely because of the childish nature of some of the games. She found it insulting to be treated like a “baby”.
With SilverLark we created a memory activity with an interface that was distinctively not childish, no cartoon characters or childish fonts and colors. We made games that are simple enough to be played by people coping with more advanced stages (you can set the match game to as few as 4 cards), but sophisticated enough to be enjoyed by adults. Studies show that the style of communication with dementia patients and how they feel about themselves influences how well they respond to caregivers. In our experience using an iPad can increase a patient’s self-esteem and give a sense of accomplishment and those moments of good feelings can shape the rest of your loved one’s day.
By easily customizing the activities with your own photos of family, caregivers, memories or even everyday objects, you can have an activity to share with your loved one or patient that is always fresh and interesting and not “for babies” as my mother used to say.
SilverLark for iPad is available in the App Store.
This past Sunday’s 60 Minutes on CBS did a story on what they call the fastest growing segment of the population, people living to age 90 and beyond. Their story is about many aspects of growing old and in part they address Alzheimer’s and dementia. According to 60 Minutes the risk of dementia doubles every five years starting at age 65 and affects short term memory first. 96 year old Ted Rosenbaum, who has dementia is shown looking at pictures with his wife and he describes looking back at a lifetime of of memories as a “source of incalculable joy”.
You can watch the entire segment on the CBS 60 Minutes website here. Be sure to scroll down the page for the 60 Minutes Overtime video titled “Before you give up wine and dessert..” Some good news for all of us!
Visiting grandparents with dementia can be confusing and difficult for children. Having some activities planned for the visit is likely to help. Kids love to show pictures and SilverLark is a wonderful way to turn it into a game.
In our experience, it’s important to let the kids know to play slowly and let grandma or grandpa take a turn. You might want to talk about how the grandparent may not remember who’s in some of the pictures, but that doesn’t mean she’s not enjoying looking at them. Another tip is to use Apple’s guided access feature to keep the iPad restricted to SilverLark so that your child doesn’t quit SilverLark and abandon Grandma to head off into Angry Birds land. If the game only lasts 10 or 15 minutes, it’s all right, everyone benefits from those minutes of togetherness.
Sometimes the grandparent just enjoys watching the child uncover the pictures or play the match game. It’s so simple that a child and a grandparent can find their own way to play and there is no way to lose. If you’re lucky, a picture might spark a memory and some stories. There’s no guarantee but it’s a wonderful way to try to get a conversation going and if it doesn’t work on the first visit, it just might the next time.
Sometimes older people declare they are not “technical”, “don’t like”, “don’t care about”, “never did get into computers”. It’s been our experience, however, that once we take out the iPad, show a few pictures or play a simple game suddenly everyone is interested. Maybe it’s that “computer” or “technology” is an abstract idea that some people would prefer to avoid but once it becomes personal, once it becomes something that has “my pictures” or “my games” on it, those abstract ideas evaporate.
A tablet is very intuitive, the interface is directly between the hand and the brain – no keyboard, no remote control, no mouse. There is no need to be able to see a tiny cursor. You can easily put it on a table or hold it in your lap and weighs about the same amount as a book. The screen glows and it’s easy to see. It’s small and friendly and when there are pictures on it of grandchildren, pets and memories, it stops being “technology” it becomes yours.
We’ve had one funny experience while testing SilverLark on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in board and care facilities that has repeated itself over and over. After playing for a while, sometimes one of our subjects will tell us that although they are enjoying the game and like using the iPad, they think that the other people in the facility would not be “with it” enough to handle it. Sometimes they tell us they like it but that other people just aren’t into technology. Comments like that show that the person using the iPad is proud of the fact that they themselves are “with it” and capable of using a hi tech device. SilverLark games are simple but can open the door to something new for dementia patients. We all like to feel that we can learn something new and to someone with Alzheimer’s who has so many doors closing, going through that new door might just feel good.
SilverLark got a great post on the “Surviving Alzheimer’s” blog, written by Paula Spencer Scott author of the book “Surviving Alzheimer’s”, available on Amazon. We really like what she say’s about SilverLark particularly “I say the more tools in your pocket, the better.” Exactly what we’d like to do with our app – provide you with one more tool, a way to enjoy a moment or a momentary distraction in a difficult situation.
Check out her book and her blog, we just downloaded to read on iPad using the free Kindle app.
Although dementia robs people of many things, our innate curiosity does not seem to be easily erased. Like scratcher lottery games, we all want to know what’s hidden under the blue screen. We’d like to find a winning lottery number, but mostly we just want to uncover the mystery. We’ve found that people who don’t recognize the pictures hidden beneath the blue screen still want to rub it away and find out what’s there. Sometimes the picture sparks a memory, sometimes they ask “who’s that?” but it doesn’t matter. There’s no such thing as failure with SilverLark, just enjoying one picture after another in a new way. One physical therapist said “Each picture is like unwrapping a gift.” Everyone likes to unwrap presents, solve mysteries, to see what’s in the envelope and when you put your photos into SilverLark that gift might be a memory.
Completing a matching game and getting a smile and applause is fun if it’s 12 cards or 4. And if the matching game has a few pictures that are recognized, so much the better. You might want to take turns turning over the cards. Make it an opportunity to play a game together.
Your parent or patient might not remember the family pictures you load into the SilverLark library, and in more advanced stages of dementia the caregiver may have to guide the finger across the screen or play a matching game with only 2 cards, but curiosity pulls people into the game. And if the fun of playing only lasts 5, 10 or 15 minutes, so what? That’s 5 minutes of enjoyment. And if they don’t remember it, that’s still 5 minutes that were fun and it will be a new game again tomorrow.