Dear Family and Friends,
My sweet mother-in-law’s birthday is on the horizon, and we are once again trying to come up with a gift that acknowledges how much we love her without adding to clutter in her lovely, but small, room in the memory care unity where she lives in Wisconsin.
As Alzheimer’s Disease has taken more and more of her ability to notice, understand and appreciate the people and things around her, we struggle to keep the gift-giving process meaningful and enjoyable. Of course, we feel just being with her is most important, and my husband is looking forward to visiting his mom this year on the actual day of her birthday. But it’s very hard for him to go without something in hand.
He always takes a hot fudge sundae — she still seems to enjoy those, and will open her mouth for a bite every time you offer it, although you do have to remind her for each spoonful.
I wanted to share with you one of the most successful gifts we gave her. It was for Christmas a couple of years ago, and it was what I called “the picture pillow.”
We had begun to notice that Mom had stopped paying much attention to photo albums we tried to share with her, until one day when I turned a page and an 8″x10″ photo filled an entire page. She immediately said, “That’s my David,” referring to my husband. That brought tears to his eyes, and we realized that perhaps she couldn’t see the faces in the smaller pictures throughout the rest of the album. Who knew? She couldn’t tell us whether her vision was failing, because she had pretty much stopped talking except when prompted to speak a specific word, many months before.
As her Alzheimer’s had progressed, Mom could usually be found sitting in her wheelchair with her chin down on her chest, eyes open, with her field of view taken up by her hands, folded and still, sitting in her lap. So it occurred to us that it might be nice to have something she could keep comfortably in her lap, and that had a large picture in it that could be switched out regularly.
We came up with the idea of making a large lap pillow, stuffed a little less firmly than a regular pillow so her hands wouldn’t slide off, and sewing onto the top a clear, vinyl pocket into which a photograph could be placed. I found some soft, washable velvet brocade and cut out the 17″ x 17″ pillow sides (allowing for 1″ seams). Before sewing the sides together, I stitched a 9″ x 11″ clear vinyl pocket centered onto the front, stitching only on three sides (the fourth side is the opening into which the photo can be slid in and out), and then gluing (using washable fabric glue) some braided trim on top of the vinyl on all four sides as a kind of “frame.” Then I sewed the two pillow sides together, adding a zipper so that the cover could be removed and washed as needed
Now, whenever we or someone else visits, we encourage them to take an 8″ x 10″ photo and plop it into the pillow pocket. We don’t print high-quality prints — we can just snap a quick copy of a photo using the camera on a cell phone, then enlarge it and print it on our home printer on regular paper. It doesn’t really matter because Mom’s vision isn’t clear enough to see fine detail.
We also try to make sure the photo is a close-up of one or two (at most) people so that the faces are large enough for her to distinguish.
I’m grateful for the sewing lessons that my own Grandma Nana gave me, starting when I was just 4 years old. It’s very satisfying to use those skills to give a little something back to another woman who means so much to me.
What about you? What gifts have you given an Alzheimer’s patient that you have found particularly meaningful? Please share with us, because Mother’s Day is just around the corner!