We love to run across news stories that show how the simplest of ideas can have a tremendous impact, and that’s how we felt some months back as we read this heart-warming article published earlier this year on the BBC News website. We thought it would be a good article to bring back and share once again with our readers here on the AgingOptions blog. If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia, we think this idea can be helpful – and if it is, we would love to hear about it.
The Dementia Whiteboard: A Small Whiteboard with a Profound Impact
The idea for the BBC story began with a home care visit by a British general practitioner to a woman with dementia. He noticed that the woman’s adult daughter, in order to calm and reassure her often anxious and agitated mother, had put a small whiteboard in a prominent spot where her mom could always read it. The doctor told the BBC that he saw what was on the whiteboard and thought, “I’ve got to share this. I’d not seen anything like it before in thousands of house visits. It’s caring, reassuring and sensible – it’s just such a simple idea.” He took a photo of the whiteboard and posted in on Twitter, expecting the idea to appeal only to “few interested colleagues.” To date his tweet has been liked more than 40,000 times, and lives have been touched around the world. Tens of thousands more have responded to the story via other social media sites such as Reddit.
According to the website of the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease (by far the most common type of dementia) is often accompanied by a sense of unease. “A person with Alzheimer’s may feel anxious or agitated,” says the website. “He or she may become restless, causing a need to move around or pace, or become upset in certain places or when focused on specific details.” Many factors trigger anxiety in someone with dementia: changing where they live, spending time in a hospital or nursing home, being surrounded by unfamiliar people, or having someone new as a caregiver. But frequently, says the Alzheimer’s Association, the agitation comes from fear and fatigue: sufferers are “trying to make sense out of a confusing world” and it makes them profoundly uneasy.
The Dementia Whiteboard Cuts Down on Anxious Phone Calls
This was the problem with the woman in the BBC report. The daughter explained to the doctor that “that the board aims to reduce ‘anxious phone calls’ made by her mother to relatives.” The items written on the whiteboard were both simple and touching – statements like:
- You’re okay.
- Everyone’s fine.
- You are not moving.
- No one else is moving.
- You don’t owe anyone any money.
- You haven’t upset anyone.
The response to the postings on social media was immediate and surprising. “It wasn’t long before people were sharing whiteboards and ideas of their own,” the BBC article reported. “Many of the stories shared by families and medical professionals alike touched on the anxiety which dementia can cause.” One nurse from Canada reported that one resident where she worked would frequently start crying because he was worried about his children, and he was also afraid he would have to start paying for his meals. A man in Shimla, India, “saw Philip’s tweet and posted the image on Reddit where it has gained more than 112,000 upvotes,” with one user suggesting adding to the whiteboard, “You can use the bathroom whenever you like.” That’s because they knew of one dementia patient who grew anxious and upset when she became convinced that she wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom.
Besides the Dementia Whiteboard, Consider These Helpful Strategies
The whiteboard idea may work for you if a loved one in your care is becoming anxious due to dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association website also adds these helpful suggestions. First, stay calm and positive yourself. Slow down. Keep stimulation and confusion to a minimum, and don’t offer too many choices. Reassuring statements like, “You’re safe here” and “Everything is under control” can help. Let the anxious person know you will stay with them until they feel better. If possible, involve the person in simple activities like art or music to divert their attention. If conditions permit, this might be a good time to take a walk or go for a car ride.
Raising your voice, showing alarm, criticizing or arguing will only make things worse, the Association says. If the anxiety persists or gets worse, make sure you see a physician – or, better yet, a geriatrician – because there may be physical causes such as prescription drug side effects at work. Also, the more you share with others in the same situation, the more ideas and solutions you’ll find, and you’ll be reminded that you’re not alone. You may want to check out the Alzheimer’s Associations Community section for support groups, online forums and other resources to help you.
That kind of support is why the BBC story of the whiteboard is important. As the doctor who first tweeted the story put it, “Dementia is such a heartbreaking subject for so many people and this simple solution to support often elderly relatives has resonated with so many people around the world. The idea has touched people’s hearts.” It certainly touched ours.
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(originally reported at www.bbc.com)