Croquet at Copthorne - Dealing with dementia, a family learns to play together
Article submitted by James Creasey, founder of Jiminy Wicket. Jiminy Wicket was created after James Creasey played a memorable game of croquet with his father, Maxwell, who was losing his language, memory and abilities due to dementia. According to James, “Dad may have been confused, post-verbal and not able to find his way down the corridor, but with a little guidance he could play a cracking game of croquet.” The game gave them many days of shared happiness until his death in 2009.
When I first learned to play croquet, I never imagined it would create a new connection with my Dad in the silence of his dementia.
Dad became post-verbal as vascular dementia sporadically stole his memory and capacities. He would forget that “Copthorne”, our family home of 40 plus years, was still the place where he laid his sleepy head. “When are we going home?’ he would ask seated at his own dining room table.
In October 2007, I got a call from my brother saying that Dad had experienced a minor stroke. The diagnosis of vascular dementia helped us plan how to take care of him and give back some of the love and dignity that he had given to us over the years.
What am I going to do with Dad day after day? This question troubled me on my night flight across the Atlantic in June 2008. What will we do in those lengthening silences? Conversation had become more intermittent. Sentences were a real effort for him. Golf had gone … too precise; ping pong … too fast; Scrabble, crosswords, chess …all too complicated.
I wanted to give my parents the gift of being able to take another vacation together. For more than fifteen years my Mum and Dad had been taking a two-week summer holiday by the seaside. They stayed at the most charming and welcoming little country-house hotel called The Nare on the cliff tops of Cornwall, near Veryan, in south west England.
A few summers prior to this, one of my colleagues at work had introduced me to croquet at our annual summer picnic. A year later we played again. Being eager to play more than once a year, I joined the Denver Croquet Club and found a game that had been waiting for me. I loved it.
Imagine my delight when we arrived at The Nare in June 2008 and I discovered on that cliff top with spectacular views of the countryside and the far western reaches of the English Channel was the most perfectly kept croquet lawn.
As a child, I had always wanted my Dad to play with me - cricket, soccer or whatever the seasonal game might have been - but the work that he brought home from his office too often took precedence over playfulness. I had no idea how he would respond if I asked him to play croquet with me now.
I knew the game needed to be kept simple if Dad was to stand a chance at following it. So I brought out two mallets and just two balls. And then there we were, on the cliff tops of Cornwall, playing in a way that I had longed for as a child. What joy! We were playing together now, and that was enough.
He may have been confused, post-verbal and not able to find his way down the corridor, but with a little guidance he could play a cracking game of croquet. He frequently made a hoop from one end of the court to the other! It took every bit of skill I could muster to keep up with his accumulation of points.
The next morning I invited some Australians at the breakfast table to join us for croquet. The day after that an English couple joined in and by the end of our holiday several families were promising to return home and buy a croquet set to play in their own back yards. We were one of those families. On my flight back to Denver I felt so satisfied with the gift I had left behind and the gift I was taking home.
A few days later I began to receive excited phone calls and emails reporting that my siblings as well as my nephews and nieces all had something they could do with Dad besides sitting with him in the silence. They were playing croquet together!
As Dad’s condition continued to deteriorate his ability to play croquet did not. If he answered the front door family, friends or complete strangers could expect to be silently ushered to the back lawn and handed a mallet and a ball for a game of croquet. As Dad played he would smile from ear to ear.
Maxwell Creasey passed away on September 21st, 2009 at the age of 87. In the Order of Service for the Thanksgiving of his life is a picture of him playing croquet on that lawn at The Nare. And yes, he’s smiling.
I am forever grateful that my father taught me to play croquet with someone who is dealing with dementia. With my family on both sides of the Atlantic, we learnt the mental, physical and social benefits of playing croquet together with Dad.
Inspired by my own experience, in the summer of 2009, I started a program with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Denver Croquet Club. We have published a simple how-to booklet for playing croquet with people who are dealing with dementia that can be used by other clubs around the world and in settings as simple as your own backyard.
We have created a collaboration with Alzheimer’s Disease International and the World Croquet Federation to expand the use of this program. Visit our website to learn more about our organization - www.jiminywicket.org
Posted July 2013 on www.SeniorsResourceGuide.com