It’s All a Game of Cards

Have you ever had a senior moment? It’s so, hmm… one minute. There’s a word for it. I know what I want to say; it’s on the tip of my tongue. Not upsetting, no, but… Oh, this is so frustrating. Ah, right. Frustrating, that’s the word I was looking for: frustrating.

The truth is, senior moments are not only frustrating, they’re also scary. Could this possibly be a sign of something that I dare not even think about, let alone mention? And when we do speak about it, usually in whispers, we discover that we all share the same fear.

I always thought that occupational therapy was all about improving fine motor skills. Doing things with the hands. Rolling out clay, threading beads, intricate handiwork. But recently, I learned that an occupational therapist also works on improving memory skills.

Twice a week I attend Tikvah for Parkinson’s four-hour rehabilitation program. One of our activities is Occupational Therapy. The last few weeks we’ve been working on various strategies for improving our memories. Last week, we played a game that had us laughing until our bellies hurt, while challenging our memory skills.

Ayala, our occupational therapist, placed eight cards in a circle. Each card had a different picture: a candle, a funny looking bird, a mushroom, a shovel, the sun, scissors, a cute duck, and a chair. She gave us a few minutes to memorize how the cards were placed, and then turned them over. Then she pointed to various cards and asked us what they were.

We flunked that assignment. Every single one of us.

Afterwards, she asked us if we could think of any strategies to help us remember how the cards were placed. One of the ladies suggested that we incorporate the cards into a story.

Ayala added that the more ridiculous the story, the easier it will be for us to remember. So me, being a writer (who loves anything silly and ridiculous), came up with the following story based on the cards: Come, my children, let’s gather around the light of the Shamesh of the Chanukah menorah (CANDLE) as I tell you about a Chanukah miracle. Once upon a time (isn’t that how all stories begin?) a very funny looking bird (BIRD) ate a poisonous mushroom (MUSHROOM). He became so sick that he died and was buried (SHOVEL) in a shallow grave. Everyone was sad, yet, the sun (SUN) continued to shine.

At this, one of the women quipped, “Of course the sun was shining. That’s because everyone rushed to finish the funeral before shkiyah, so there would be one less day of shivah.” We all cracked up.

On a side note I am a big believer in FUN. Laughter makes everything sweeter. And so, while we do physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and all kinds of other things to keep us healthy, we also share jokes and laugh.  Yesterday, one of the ladies (in all seriousness) said, “If people knew how much fun we have in our Parkinson’s group, they’d also want to have the disease.” 

Enough digressing. Let me continue with my strategy cum story:  But then, a woman came and with tremendous mesiras nefesh grabbed her sewing scissors (I demonstrated with the pair of scissors that I was using for my needlepoint) (SCISSORS) and pried open the grave. But the bird was gone. Instead, out popped an adorable duck (DUCK) who immediately jumped on to the lap of the story-teller, who was (obviously) sitting in a chair (CHAIR).

It was a silly story, one that really makes no sense, but the crazy thing is that afterwards, when Ayala turned over the cards, all of us were all able to recall every single one.

But now the game became even more challenging. Each time one of the ladies named the correct item, Ayala replaced the original card with a new one, which meant of course that we had to change the story. The sun was replaced with an electric lightbulb (ah, they didn’t manage to make the levayah during the day, which is why they turned on the lights) the candle with a carrot (the carrot that we use to check that the oil is hot enough to fry the sufganiyot on Chanukah), and the scissors turned into ice cream (the bird who ate the poisonous mushroom, was buried by the light of an electric bulb, escaped the grave and then ate an ice cream cone. Lo and behold, it turned into an adorable duck). The story grew sillier by the moment, but it served its purpose. None of us forgot a single detail.

Forgetfulness is not all bad. After all, no one wants their minds clogged with endless unimportant details? Or with old hurts and grievances. But it’s good to know that when we do need to remember, there are proven, albeit silly strategies to jar our memories.

Just remember to use them.