Bridging the generation gap (Opinion)

Liz Heape-Caldwell
Guest column

As parents, we feel the pressure of when to allow our children to have cell phones and if/when they can have access to social media. Having two girls, let me tell you … the struggle is real and I eventually caved under the pressure.

So, now that some of our children have these tools how can they be used for good? Wasn’t it Spiderman that said, “With great power comes great responsibility?” So is it possible for these technological children, who are proficient with social media, to use their power for good to engage with their grandparents and great grandparents? Perhaps those with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease?

Recently, my husband, two daughters and I made a trip to Southern California on what we fondly call the “grandparents tour.” One of our stops was with my husband’s grandmother, Barbie. She is an amazing woman who lives in her own home with her husband.

However, years prior Barbie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Even with this disease, she functions very well with the assistance of her caregiver and daughter who are present regularly. However, you notice Barbie’s cognitive deficits because she is very repetitive.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, “The main cause of behavioral symptoms in Alzheimer’s and other progressive dementias is the deterioration of brain cells which causes a decline in the individual’s ability to make sense of the world. In the case of repetition, the person may not remember that she or he has just asked a question or completed a task” (Alzheimer’s Association, 2019).

This was the case with Barbie, as she regularly repeated the same questions and comments. However, the comments she made were not out of distress but, excitement instead. She was so excited to see my husband, her grandson that she told him time and time again, “Brian you are so tall! How tall are you? I think I might be shrinking?” We all laughed with her and patiently continued to answer her questions each time she asked.

As our visit progressed, some of the family went into the other room to talk, my youngest daughter Savannah sat with Barbie. When we came back to the common room, what we saw was both heartwarming and thought provoking. Savannah and her great grandmother were playing on Snapchat. Both were giggling, trying different filters where they were cute little bunnies, and chatting about life.

Savannah enjoys Snapchat with her great grandmother Barbie. <em id="emphasis-b2756bc015146d863aeef535d52c5b35">Provided</em>

During this time, Barbie had stopped her repetitive loop. She was no longer asking the same questions and was focused on interacting with her great granddaughter. It was spectacular. So, how did this happen? How did this young girl so quickly figure out how to communicate effectively with her great grandmother with Alzheimer’s? Quite simply, purely by accident.

There is an abundance of research on how listening to relevant music, looking through old pictures, and participating in art therapy can assist those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Music and art can enrich the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Both allow for self-expression and engagement, even after dementia has progressed” (Alzheimer’s Association, 2019).

However, there is little research on the use of social media platforms such as Snapchat and the potential benefits to individuals with cognitive deficits. In Barbie’s case, her repetition ceased. She was engaged, focused, and most importantly … happy. Savannah, on the other hand, was able to communicate with her great grandmother in a fun and interactive way. For a moment in time, the generational gap was bridged. A grandmother with Alzheimer’s and a tech savvy young girl connected on a level that they had not been able to for years.

So, what does this mean moving forward? Is it that app’s like Snapchat are the next best communicative tool for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia? Probably not, however, it provides a way for the younger generation to connect with their older family members while also providing a potential bonus of calming behaviors associated with cognitive diseases.

So, next time you are at a family function and are annoyed with your child on their phone, re-direct them to some family members who might enjoy becoming a puppy, wearing a flower crown, or swapping faces. I promise it will be a great time for all involved.

Liz Heape-Caldwell is chief operating officer of Elder Options, Inc. As a certified aging life care manager, Liz enjoys getting to know her clients and their families, to determine which course of action would best for the individual. Her passion for care management comes assisting others, regardless of age or socioeconomic status. In her spare time, Liz enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters who she regularly has to tell to get off their phones.

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