How Kay Used DVDs to Help Her Husband with Alzheimer’s
David and Kay Fairley had been married less than nine years when symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease began to affect David. He was 57 years old.
More than five million people have Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. For families dealing with this disease, struggles are endless.
“You’re never off,” said Kay, “it’s 24/7.”
Watching a loved one deteriorate cognitively, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, is heartbreaking.
“Seeing your loved one decline (is challenging),” said Kay. “David was a really smart guy and just seeing him get to the point where he couldn’t write anything, he couldn’t understand things he read – the brain just deteriorating little bit by little bit…it’s just this slow, slow decline of someone you love so much…watching him decline was just heartbreaking – it rips your heart out to see somebody go down like that who had such a full, rich life.”
David was a scuba diver as well as a skier and sailor. Those were his three primary passions, Kay said. In fact, when they first married, they lived on David’s sailboat in California. He taught his wife to scuba dive.
Kay watched her beloved lose his various abilities for more than 27 years. She was his caregiver for 21 of those years. She tried different methods, various activities, to calm him during his periods of agitation, which, she said, occurred almost daily, particularly in the afternoon.
“We’d try to find things for him to watch (on TV) … there wasn’t anything out there much,” she said.
Years later, when David was in an Alzheimer’s unit at a care facility, Kay discovered nature DVDs set to soothing, instrumental music. She believed she found a treasure.
“I was looking for a long time for things like this and I couldn’t find anything,” she said. “I was trying to give him some quiet, peaceful moments. In the nursing home, I wanted to give him something beautiful to watch and be soothing and help him to have a peaceful afternoon.”
She visited him daily, staying until about 3 pm, and she said she would put the DVD into a player she had purchased and placed in his room. He’d lay in bed, getting “a break from the wheelchair” before dinner and watch the program.
“I wanted him to have something nice to look out and be soothing and get his mind off whatever was going on in that unit.”
She chose four DVDs for her husband. She was especially intrigued by one about the ocean.
“David was an avid scuba diver; I got The Living Ocean for him because I knew he’d really enjoy looking at the fish and the underwater scenes – I thought that was something he could really relate to,” Kay said.
She also purchased three instrumental Christian music-themed programs.
“He was also a very strong Christian man so I got ones with hymns; he’d play hymns on his harmonica at church,” Kay said.
Music helps many afflicted with Alzheimer’s. That art form was a vital part of David’s life. He enjoyed playing his harmonica for people, Kay said, and at times the family dog joined in, serenading whomever was listening, bringing joy during times of stress.
“That dog was wonderful for my husband,” she said.
“David entertained people anywhere with the harmonica,” Kay continued, “so I got All Things Bright and Beautiful, Creation’s Song, and Nature's Soothing Beauty – I thought that would be a neat one for him, too. I ended up playing all of them for him a little bit, but then he got very ill and passed.”
David died in May of 2016. Although Kay said she wasn’t able to use the programs with him as much as she wished she could have, she knows they are a valuable resource.
“I could have used them a lot more when he was at home; that’s when he was at his high agitation stage and wandered all over the house, and he would try to get out of the house a lot,” she said. “These DVDs are so wonderful! Anybody who’s dealing with this (disease) at home could benefit from them.”
Kay learned about the programs from the activity director of the care facility where her husband resided.
“I was encouraging her to get more beautiful music and scenery out in the day room for the folks; it’s the perfect thing for them – most of the stuff on the TV these days…they can’t follow it; it’s noise – they can’t understand what they’re watching or hearing, the storylines or anything, and of course, as the day wears on, a lot of them go into Sundowner’s Syndrome and they get pretty agitated mid-afternoon on. They need something that’s soothing, calming, beautiful and peaceful.”
Studies show people with Alzheimer’s don’t benefit from watching regular, commercial television. Dramatic programs, especially those with violence or war, agitate Alzheimer’s patients – many believe the action they see on the television is real.
In-home caregivers and their loved ones are not the only ones who benefit from the DVDs, Kay said; she believes facilities that care for Alzheimer’s patients, such as the one which housed her husband would also find great value in using the programs.
“They really need them,” she said. “They (patients) need activities and peaceful stimulation.”
Receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and living for years with the disease takes a toll on family members.
“It was a tough one,” Kay said. “David fought it with everything he had; he was a very, very strong man physically, emotionally, and spiritually – he just gave it all he had.”
During the early years after his diagnosis, David participated in a study at Duke University, testing out new medication to hopefully slow the disease’s progression. The couple lived in North Carolina at the time. David was part of the research for five years. He and Kay later moved to Pennsylvania, where Kay’s sister lived, and the three moved in together. Kay received caregiver assistance from her sibling. By the near-end of David’s life, both women began experiencing health issues. Kay’s sister suffered a heart attack in February 2016, but “by the grace of God,” she survived, Kay said.
“It’s taken its toll on both of us big-time,” she stated. “It’s a family disease, and it’s such a stressful disease. It’s so misunderstood by family and friends – they don’t get it and they don’t understand what the family is going through.”
She believes having the DVDs benefits both the person with Alzheimer’s and the caregiver.
“They’re well done and the price is very good; I’m just very impressed with them,” she said.
She’s shared some of the programs with her support group, she added. “It’s such a valuable resource; people need to know about it,” Kay said.
She credits their faith in God in helping her and David go through nearly 30 years of dealing with Alzheimer’s.
“Our faith in Christ helped us get through time after time after time. God provided things we needed all along – I don’t know how we’d have done it otherwise,” she said.
Kay and her sister are adjusting to life after David. That’s not an easy task, especially after experiencing nearly three decades of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Kay remembers her husband with great pride, respect, and fondness.
“He was a really wonderful, neat guy with a wonderful sense of humor – and that helps a lot in dealing with the disease,” she said.
Comedic programs, especially from the early days of television, can also help people dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. For example, "I Love Lucy" brings back memories, features great humor, and has simple plot lines which program watchers can follow. However, music and nature with no narration seem to keep Alzheimer’s patients more relaxed. Scenes of mountains, rivers, waterfalls, horses, and wildlife keep them engaged, providing respite for the caregiver, whether that’s relaxing on the couch alongside the loved one watching the program or providing opportunity for the caregiver to complete household tasks while their loved one watches.
“It’s so demanding; caregiving is 24/7 as the disease progresses,” said Kay. You can help your loved one, and yourself, with these relaxing DVDs. Learn more about these nature programs set to either symphonic or Christian hymn music by visiting http://www.alzheimersvideo.com/.