When we’re involved in the activities that make us happy and give us purpose, we are motivated to stay engaged with the world around us. However, when dementia affects a family member, these fun experiences are often put on the back burner, being replaced by doctor’s appointments, caregiving issues, and a growing number of stressful situations that require attention.
After George was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s, his family became concerned about his ability to function independently. He eventually withdrew from his daily routines and interactions with family and friends. He had become quiet, no longer enjoying walks along his old postal route. Now, he just wanted to stay at home and listen to music.
After CaringKind’s 24-hour Helpline assured Claire, George’s wife, that she had come to the right place for advice and support, she was referred to other CaringKind programs for further assistance. Claire was interested to hear more about connect2culture®. This initiative helps cultural institutions around New York City create programs for people living with dementia and their caregivers. This would be a great opportunity for both Claire and George to enjoy each other’s company away from the doctors and other stresses that now seemed to define their daily schedule.
Claire, who loved to spend time in their community garden, and George, who had enjoyed being part of the community while working for USPS, learned through connect2culture about an afternoon program at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden where they could enjoy being outdoors together. They asked their oldest child, Lily, to join them.
Annabel, the educator leading the program, warmly welcomed the family to the botanic garden, giving each a name tag to create a sense of comfort within the group. Claire appreciated the gesture, knowing that George needed a bit more prompting to catch his attention. While they waited with the other participants, Claire talked with some of the other caregivers. It was comforting to talk with someone who understood. The caregiver she spoke to told her about other programs that she and her husband enjoyed, like JM Journeys at the Jewish Museum and Mindful Connections at the Rubin Museum of Art. She had heard that the Queens Museum had also recently started a program which she planned to look into. There were a growing number of programs around the city, and connect2culture was a great resource for exploring them.
As soon as the group was assembled in a quiet corner of the education center, Annabel guided the group to the Japanese garden. After talking about its design, she asked the group how they felt about it. Was this a place they would want to explore? George and Claire shared a memory of a similar garden they had seen on a trip to Japan with their children. Claire made a note in the notebook she always carried with her to look at the photo album of that trip with George when they got home. They might reminisce about other experiences they had enjoyed on the trip, like the rows and rows of fish at one of the world’s largest fresh fish markets or the smell of incense in the quiet temples that they had visited.
Annabel’s next stop took them to the Fragrance Garden, where they were encouraged to touch and smell some of the well-tended herbs and spices. Some people started to make connections to smells that they had grown up with, memories of favorite dinner dishes. Reluctant to interrupt these wonderful memories, Annabel took everyone back to the classroom where she gave them tools and supplies to pot herbs that they could take home. Claire immediately recognized the strong perfume of rosemary that filled the room as they entered. George also smelled something, but couldn’t identify it. It smelled like the apartment did after Claire made her delicious rosemary chicken for dinner.
As they sat at the table, and Annabel talked to them about the herb they held in their hands, Claire, George, and Lily all felt relaxed and content. Rubbing the rosemary leaves through their fingers, smelling the slightly spicy scent of the oil on their skin, made all three of them enjoy the moment. They dug their fingers into the soil and worked together to make sure their rosemary was firmly planted before taking it home. The earthy smell and sensation of the moist soil around his fingers made George happy. While Lily lived and worked in Manhattan, she was glad to have taken the afternoon off to share this experience with her parents.
This program gave the family a chance to walk in a safe and welcoming environment that was not too far from where they lived. Claire was happy that this program was practically in their backyard. The logistics of traveling around the city had become a challenge, so to learn that this was just a short distance from their house was a relief. The garden gave the whole family a sense of calm to be outside, relaxing, learning, and being around other people. George listened to the birds singing, smelled the fresh cut grass, felt a breeze on the back of his neck, all the while holding his wife’s hand as Lily walked beside them.
George and Claire’s Journey continues on the next page...