Winnie the Pooh Brings a Smile to a Friend with Alzheimer’s
For the past few weeks, I have been visiting a friend of mine who is now in an assisted living facility because of her Alzheimer’s.
She has been genuinely different each time I’ve seen her.
Visit 1 was canceled because she was extraordinarily upset, trying to leave by walking out the front door or climbing out the window.
During Visit 2, she was crying, unhappy, packing up her bag and taking her family photos off the wall because she said was leaving that evening. She asked more than once if I could give her a ride home.
While there for Visit 3, I knew I needed to do something different, so I started to read to her. I could tell she had trouble following the complicated text from a book I found in the room; however, she laid back, closed her eyes and listened to the sound of my voice.
Reading to her, I thought was the key, but what could she understand? Then it hit me, children’s books. Not a chapter book, but one with beautiful drawings and an interesting story. It had to be something that an adult would like. Before Visit 4 today, I stopped in at the San Rafael Public Library, walked into the Children’s Room and asked for help.
The librarian suggested Finding Winnie, the True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. It was written by Lindsay Mattick, the great granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian who bought a small bear cub for $20 in Ontario on his way to World War I. He named her after his hometown Winnipeg, FYI: Although Winnie the bear cub sailed with Capt. Colebourn to England, she never made it the front lines. Instead she found a home at the London Zoo on December 9, 1914, which is where she met Christopher Robin, a real little boy whose father happened to be A.A. Milne. (You can see where this is going, right?)
Back to my friend. I walked into her room with three books and she chose the lovely true story of
Winnie the Pooh. We sat knee to knee as I read to her, like I used to read to my children. She loved the drawings and said more than once, “how sweet.” Based on her comments, she understood the story and stayed attentive for most of it.
When I stood up to leave, I asked if she enjoyed it.
“Oh, yes,” she said.
“Shall I bring more books?”
"Yes," she said.
Watching a friend mentally slip away is beyond sad. But introducing her to a bear named Winnie who gave her 15 minutes of happiness helped me bridge the gap.