According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, every 3 seconds someone gets diagnosed with dementia resulting in almost 10 million new cases worldwide annually. The financial costs are now predicted to be almost a trillion dollars per year.1
So with these statistics, it’s not surprising that these days it seems that we all know someone with dementia or have a good friend whose parent has been diagnosed so we know that the financial burden is only part of the story as the emotional burden and pain cannot be measured in dollars.
What can we do when faced with the day in and day out challenges of helping to care for and communicate with a loved one who’s been diagnosed with an illness that gradually separates them from their memories and from their friends and family and who find themselves in an unknown hospital or care facility? How can we help ease the fear these folks feel when the disease begins to take its toll and they are confused, frustrated and sometimes angry and disoriented? How can we help ease the pain of repeating conversations over and over again knowing that Mom or Dad will forget and repeat their questions again 20 minutes later?
Most doctors will tell you that it’s paramount that family members constantly remind their loved ones who are suffering from dementia that they are in a safe place and that they are loved by you, their families and those that are helping to care for them.
One loving daughter took this advice to heart and created such a simple yet highly effective way to reassure and calm her Mother that her Doctor, Philip Grimmer, a General Practitioner in Wiltshire, Tweeted her idea and shared a photograph of her ingenious whiteboard placed next to her Mother’s bedside.
Dr. Grimmer had no idea how many people would be touched when he shared the photo on Twitter with this message:
“Words of reassurance left for an elderly lady with dementia by her daughter. A simple whiteboard left in her sight line in her sitting room. Helped to reduce constant anxious phone calls.”2
The messages on the whiteboard were simple:
- Your meals are paid for.
- You’re okay.
- Everyone’s fine.
- You are not moving.
- No-one else is moving.
- Keep drinking, it will help your memory.
- You don’t owe anyone any money.
- You haven’t upset anyone.
Words of reassurance left for an elderly lady with dementia by her daughter. A simple white board left in her sight line in her sitting room. Helped to reduce constant anxious phone calls. pic.twitter.com/K2ueZXuZWZ
— Dr Philip Grimmer FRCGP (@GrimmPhil) January 26, 2019
Dr. Grimmer posted the tweet on a Saturday. By the following day, he shared this update: “Wow! I thought this tweet would be seen by a few interested colleagues. It’s now been seen over a million times and clearly touched people’s hearts around the world. Feeling impressed by the power of Twitter to share ideas!”1
The BBC picked up the story of the tweet and provided more background. As Dr. Grimmer was visiting a patient’s home, “he saw what was on the whiteboard and thought, ‘I’ve got to share this,’ Dr. Grimmer says the daughter explained that the board aims to reduce ‘anxious phone calls’ made by her mother to relatives, and has been placed in her eye-line at her home in Chippenham.’ Dr. Grimmer told the BBC: ‘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.’”3
People responded to Dr. Grimmer’s tweet with their own signs and touching experiences about the people in their lives struggling with dementia. This one from @nicknoxx has some brief, but important messages. Responding later to reader comments, @nicknoxx explained: “If she goes to bed before 8 she’s up in the night wandering.”
Here’s the one we did for my mum. pic.twitter.com/Nf9oGOpyCr
— Nick Brooks (@nicknoxx) January 26, 2019
After seeing the bedtime guidance, one reader wrote, “Wow – so other people are experiencing the pre-8pm bedtime issues too. Thanks so much for sharing, really helps knowing that you’re not alone in this (though ever so sorry that you are).”
A reader who works in a long term care facility wrote, “We have these memory boards behind every bed on our ward it helps us to interact with our patients there fantastic we’ve seen an amazing response.” The whiteboard titled, “What Matters To Me?” captures some of one particular patient’s interests including, “I like Elvis, and Dean Martin,” “My wife Jane is my number 1,” and “I like sweet foods, puddings (hot and cold).”
We have these memory boards behind every bed on our ward it help us to interact with our patients there fantastic we’ve seen an amazing response ❤️ pic.twitter.com/JgbM0aHO5K
— debwba (@deb30wba) January 27, 2019
One reader, @KathBarnes5, responded with this poignant comparison, “Makes me tearful. We forget how frightening a hospital admission/new care home is. I spent months preparing my daughter for big school. Yet we trivialize the burden of a confusing hospital for someone living with dementia.”
Makes me tearful. We forget how frightening a hospital admission/new care home is. I spent months preparing my daughter for big school. Yet we trivialise the burden of a confusing hospital for someone living with dementia.
— Kath Barnes (@KathBarnes5) January 26, 2019
Dr. Grimmer’s wife, Kim, is an RN who also works with dementia patients. She posted this in response to her husband’s tweet:
I met an HCA today who cared for a patient this week that had been awake all night looking for his bus stop afraid he would miss his bus. She promptly made a bus stop sign, hung it on his IV stand and he fell asleep! Simple but great thinking! ????
— Kim Grimmer RN QN (@Kiml71) January 26, 2019
“I met an HCA [Health Care Assistant] today who cared for a patient this week that had been awake all night looking for his bus stop afraid he would miss his bus. She promptly made a bus stop sign, hung it on his IV stand, and he fell asleep! Simple but great thinking!”
One reader, @jonno800, shared a message posted just for Christmas Day, reassuring everyone is here for dinner, and there will be no more shopping.
This was our best memory board; everyone home so just a ceremonial one on Christmas Day????but a crucial bit of kit in helping our mum with anxiety and agitation the other 364 days a year! pic.twitter.com/3EP0CcA1Xv
— Jon White (@jonno800) January 28, 2019
Many professional writers have offered their own take on the amazing success of Dr. Grimmer’s simple tweet, singling out their own favorites from the many, many comments left by readers. Jessica Staveley of MSN featured these pieces of advice left by readers:
“I started bringing [my Dad] a treat, a particular chocolate bar that I knew he liked, and that made a huge difference…He’d wake up confused and then he’d see the chocolate and know that I’d left it for him.”4
“One of the best things we did for my Grandma was buy her an Amazon Echo with a Spotify subscription. She can listen to her music whenever she wants, and ask it ‘what day it is’ as many times as she wants.”4
Nancy Stein, writing for SeniorityMatters, offered this about Dr. Grimmer’s Tweet: “But what I also found so heartwarming and interesting was that for many, the caregiving experience and memories didn’t end with the death of their loved one. As proof, there were also responses from previous caregivers who wrote the messages they would have had they thought about this when caring for their loved one. Of particular note was this one: “‘People have been visiting you constantly. Your family loves you.’”5
We would love to hear from our own readers who have known a loved one’s struggle with dementia, what whiteboard messages would you write?
If you need more information on Alzheimer’s and dementia, please visit Alzheimer’s Disease International website.
1Alzheimer’s Disease International, The Global Voice On Dementia. Dementia Statistics.
2Grimmer P. Words of reassurance left for an elderly lady with dementia by her daughter. A simple whiteboard left in her sight line in her sitting room. Helped to reduce constant anxious phone calls. 26 January 2019. Twitter. https://twitter.com/GrimmPhil/status/1089083491084656640
3Bramwell K. Dementia whiteboard ‘touches hearts’ around the world. 1 February 2019. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-47056039
4Staveley J. You haven’t upset anyone.” A daughter’s beautiful words for her mother with dementia. 29 January 2019. MSN. https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/relationships/you-havent-upset-anyone-a-daughters-beautiful-words-for-her-mother-with-dementia/ar-BBSSKRr?li=AAadgLE
5Stein N. Simple Solutions for Diminishing Anxiety Levels in Dementia Patients. 29 January 2019. SeniorityMatters. https://www.senioritymatters.com/blog/simple-solutions-diminishing-anxiety-levels-dementia-patients
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