Using the Communication Cards with a friend or family member offers the gift of “long moments” anchored in the world of the individual with Alzheimer’s, not our left-brain, highly verbal, Earth-reality. This moves us closer to the concept of “ideal time” as described in my book, “The Long Moment.”
For twenty years in my TCU psychology class, States of Consciousness, I used an exercise called “Ideal Time” with the students. Their assignment the first week was to plan and then experience whatever they would define as an “Ideal Minute“ during the next week and then write a brief one-paragraph report on this episode. No one experienced any difficulty with this first task, and as you might expect, I received an array of reports about many pleasurable activities, long kisses, smoking a joint, eating ice cream, and hundreds of others.
In the second week the task was to plan and experience an “Ideal Hour” during the week. Once again, this presented little problem and most students loved the idea of planning and doing something that was deliberately enjoyable as part of an assignment. Many students chose activities at home that were missed because of busy schedules such as watching a favorite TV show, playing a sport, an activity with a friend, or, in many cases, intentionally resting or relaxing for an hour. Again, the feedback was very positive, but it was still not obvious to the students where this exercise was headed.
You may have already guessed the third week’s exercise, which was to plan and experience an “Ideal Day.“ It was also at this point that the process began to break down for many students. My most dedicated students would plan a Saturday or Sunday activity such as a short trip, a picnic, a long date, and think it was practical to take the entire day for a pleasurable set of experiences. My adult classes were better here at scheduling all-day events but not by much. Reports this week often communicated the frustration of wanting to do the assignment but quickly recognizing that it was not realistic, at least with their current interpretation of “ideal.”
By the time I gave the final assignment, to plan and experience an “Ideal Week“ and report on the results, the point of the exercise was obvious to most students. If ideal time is based solely on pleasure and finding enjoyable activities to fill it, then the opportunities for living an ideal day were challenging, and to live an ideal week, impossible! Now, with this background, I was able to introduce the notion that ideal time is really about how you experience all moments in time, pleasurable or not, and that it is your reaction to these moments, not how much you enjoy them in a literal sense, that matters. If you go through life defining ideal time strictly in terms of pleasure or enjoyment, there is likely to be lots of “down time,“ which is not ideal. On the other hand, if you define time in a manner that is anchored to the moment and your reactions to that moment, virtually all time can be “ideal“ and experienced as happy, enjoyable, and fulfilling. Dining, spending time with a partner, working, cleaning, or any other activity can be experienced as enjoyable if you choose to interpret it in that manner.
Adding quality to the life of someone living with Alzheimer’s means replacing any form of negative moments in time (angry, frustrated, anxious, bored, etc.) with more positive ones. That is the theme of Dr. Fenker’s book, “Don’t Rain On My Parade: Living a Complete and Joyful Life with Alzheimer’s Disease.” We create the meaning of reality to a large degree in our minds. When we tune these minds, even minds dealing with dementia, in a positive direction we change our experience.