I live with my husband who just turned 80 and has Alzheimer’s. This, I think will be helpful:
1. Reach out and touch someone.
Touching those we care about releases oxytocin, a powerful hormone that helps us bond with others, lowers blood pressure, and reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
2. Play some tunes.
The right kind of music can change the heartbeat of a household: Dixieland jazz gets most people tapping their toes, show tunes can bring back memories, bluegrass can evoke a larger American landscape, and the sound of ukuleles or reggae can transport listeners to a distant and exotic place.
3. Eat together.
The simple acting of eating can be a powerful mood booster. Sitting down with someone to an afternoon cup of tea and a piece of chocolate packs a double punch: It gives you the chance to take a physical break and helps you make an emotional connection to the person eating with you.
4. Find the hammer that cracks a smile.
People get cranky for a lot of reasons: physical aches or chronic pain. And here’s good news: A recent study found that even in people with memory loss, the feeling of happiness often lasts longer than whatever triggered it. When a person with memory loss watches an old episode of I Love Lucy, for example, the smile lingers long after the show has ended.
5. Keep things positive.
This can get hokey, but once you find what works for your family, it has the potential to become tradition. Next time you’re at the store, pick up some birthday candles and a pack of matches. You can turn anything into a celebration by dimming the lights, sticking a candle in a piece of food, and presenting it to someone who could use an emotional boost.
One caregiver in Fresno, California, says she does this quite often with her mom, who has Alzheimer’s. She sings a quick ditty to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell”: “We had a good day! We had a good day! Hi-ho the dairy-o, we had a good day!”
She says her mom’s face lights up, she claps, and it’s an easy way to change her mood, especially if they’ve been having a less-than-stellar day.