Citing a family history of dementia, and mounting evidence that his 40-something parents “are losing it,” a South Carolina teen decided it was time to intervene.
“I got the idea from those animal enrichment exercises they do at the zoo,” the boy explained, “Like putting the treat inside the toilet paper tube, and that stuff. Research has found that mental activity can delay the onset of dementia, so I thought: That’s what I need to do, for the good of my parents.”
Noting that aging parents are generally not motivated by normal rewards, like pop tarts and video games, he encourages other teens to “think like a boring person — what’s important to them?” For example, “When I put the dishes away, I never put them away in the same place. That way they have to using spatial problem-solving skills to consider what places the bowls might fit, or what might be hiding inside that large stock pot on top the fridge.”
An essential part of program is helping parents develop long-term persistence at challenging tasks. “My mom’s been looking for that blue lid that goes with the baking pan for weeks now. It’s really cute watching her try to guess more places it could possibly be.”
For the elderly, regular routines can help them remember day-to-day tasks. “My program uses visual cues to help parents remember what they are supposed to be doing. For example, the main thing my parents do around the house is give orders. So I fill the sink with dirty dishes as a visual cue that it’s time to tell a kid to do the dishes. If they didn’t have that cue, they might forget.”
He encourages other teens, “Even if it seems like your parents don’t really have anything to do, it’s important to give them that feeling of ‘contributing’. Letting them be the person who wakes you up in the morning can give them a sense of accomplishment they’ll never get from whatever else it is they do all day.”
Is it hard, caring for aging parents? “Sure, sometimes it takes real persistence and patience. The other day, I had to lay in bed pretending to sleep until 10 o’clock, before my parents finally noticed and did their ‘getting the teenager out of bed’ chore. But it’s worth the sacrifice. If you love your parents, you’ll sleep in as late as necessary.”