As a recreation therapist I have long held that the senses are where it is at. When it appears that there is little left, the senses remain. I just returned from a short trip to MD. Four evenings, five mornings in the land of milk and honey. As I opened the shuttle door my senses were delighted with the symphony of crickets unique to impending fall in MD. I looked up to a sky full of stars. My skin was pleased with an evening temp of 68. Refreshing. Glorious. Only the whimpers of my dearest Boston terrier enticed me inside. My life is abundant. I am grateful.
When we offer sensory stimulation to someone in late stage dementia, no matter the sense, I am certain they have a glimpse of milk and honey. They may not have the wherewithal to display this pleasure dramatically, but they often respond subtly. Even though they are close to their own sunset . . . the senses still glow as the sun fades on the horizon.
My next day in MD started at dawn, with me and the grand dog stalking the perfect grass stalk. The sun was rising, only a few crickets still in the orchestra, sky pinkening, air fresh and crisp, trees—tall and proud and still full of leaves. Fresh dew. In-the- moment perfection. The start of a day with my one and only grandchild, six months old and AMAZING.
To watch her process so many things. Cutting the first tooth, enunciating, trying out new food combinations, learning to crawl. She has a lot on her plate. I watch from my 57 year perspective in wonder. Her flexibility—yoga diva. Her total joy in her fruit with full facial response, the lifted eyebrow as she eats her pickled cabbage/cauliflower puree . . . ; her physical shutter and facial pucker when she tried her first pureed hamburger. Her delight with strawberry mango mash. Senses fully engaged.
Her security in the not popular grocery store once her favorite hat is on her head. Her full engagement with Granny’s new fly swatter . . . . her giggles as the air plays with her in the swing. Her senses are at their sunrise. Milk and honey.
As I traversed the Salinas harbor in our inflatable dinghy, luggage at my feet, I stared up at the glorious stars. The warm temp buffeting my face, the quiet refrain of settling Herons, the gentle lapping of the water. Sunset in Puerto Rico. Tierra de leche y miel. Life is sweet. I am grateful.
We have a saying in Alzheimer’s training, first in, last out. As I look at my granddaughter’s amazing sensory engagement and flash forward to the sunset sensory experiences I have facilitated with individuals in their final days –I am reminded—senses are where it is at.