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Home / Thoughtful Engagement / Easing anxiety—one photo at a time

Easing anxiety—one photo at a time

Mark was extraordinarily anxious. His daughter Chelsea tried everything to get him to go outside, but he was not having it. She would invite him to come to the park with her. She would invite him over to her house for dinner. She would invite him to a picnic. To no avail. He used to be a friendly and gregarious guy, enjoying activities at church and with his grown children.

This change wasn’t just COVID related. And it wasn’t dementia.

For reasons no one quite understood, Mark was adamant. The thought of going outside made him extremely anxious.

When the Thoughtful Engagement® Specialist interviewed Mark and his family members, it was very clear that the one reliable source of comfort for Mark was his beloved golden retriever, Maggie. The first time the specialist came to visit, she asked Mark to tell her about Maggie, how they “met” and some of their adventures together over the years. It was obvious that Maggie meant the world to Mark and was a great source of joy. This gave the specialist an idea.

At the next visit, they went out into the backyard and played with Maggie and eventually took her for a walk around the block. That worked well. So when the specialist came the next time, she suggested they go to the lake. Maggie loves to swim and chase balls. Mark thought that sounded like a good idea. While they were there, the specialist took a photo of Maggie playing in the water.

Before the next visit, the specialist printed out the photo on paper, but then thought, “What if I print this out on a ceramic tile so it can live out on Mark’s coffee table.” She went to a craft store, had a tile printed and brought it to Mark at their next visit. He LOVED it!

Over the next few weeks, they went to numerous places: The local park, a nearby train station, a favorite grove of trees, the local community college where Chelsea had gone to school. Each time, the focus of the trip was finding the best place to get a picture of Maggie. Eventually Mark had many photo tiles, so they decided to glue them into a collage on the wall in the foyer where there was ample room for it to grow.

Now when the specialist comes over, they plan their outings based on what location should be the next one to add to Maggie’s collection. Mark looks forward to these visits and is frequently the one to suggest where they go next. He is also much more comfortable going out, even without Maggie. Chelsea had him over for dinner last week, and they are planning to attend the church picnic together next month.

“The photos of Maggie were masterful. And creating the collage—a stroke of genius! Dad would go into the foyer and you could see him reliving each outing. It really extended the benefit of the specialist’s visits much more than photos tucked away and forgotten in an album. Who would have known?”

— Chelsea, Mark’s daughter

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Crystal Littlejohn

Founder and
Care Manager

Geriatric Resources

Thoughtful Engagement® is a national network of specialists trained to develop personalized, creative activities that reignite joy in the lives of older adults. Geriatric Resources is the exclusive provider of Thoughtful Engagement activities in northwest Phoenix.