Let me tell you what I did this weekend.
I traveled with my university’s softball team to an away series.
You’re probably think that this sounds fun…being outside, watching our team hit homeruns, getting to hang out with a great group of young women. You might think it’s awesome I get to travel around and support our student-athletes. You’d be 100% correct.
But let’s look at it this way.
What did I do this weekend?
Well, I rode a bus for four hours to watch 18 to 22 year olds play a game that revolves around a stick and a ball. I even got to help by tracking the number of times each team either swung and missed a ball thrown by them (without hitting it with that stick) or didn’t try to hit the ball when it was deemed hittable by this guy behind the plate that someone hired to make decisions about the game. However, I didn’t get to make a mark on my spreadsheet unless a player did this three times. Why three? I don’t know. I guess two isn’t enough.
And my duties didn’t stop there. Whenever a player hit the ball with the stick and no one caught it before it bounced and they started running, I had to track the number of white squares they touched. If it was more than two, I put a tally under “extra base hits.” Fortunately, I got to make a lot of tallies in this column over the weekend.
I also spend a lot of time cheering when college students put larger balls in circular structures ten feet in the air. And I get excited about college students who run around frantically trying to keep a white ball from touching the floor.
If I think about it too much, I realize that sports are weird. They’re my hobby as well as part of my job at the university. (How lucky am I to say that sometimes is a hobby and also part of my job?) But they are kind of random and bizarre when I overanalyze them and their importance to my own life and to society.
I mean, I was sad for days in March because our men’s basketball team lost a nail-biter at the conference tournament. And yesterday was a great day because four Panther softball players hit home runs.
When if you ask me about what I enjoy doing, one of my first responses might be “watching sports.”
Also at the top of my list is indoor cycling. A studio opened close to our house, and it’s my new jam. I’m usually there once—sometimes twice—a day.
One morning at 6:15 am the instructor said, “I want you to think about why you got up at 6 am to ride a bike going nowhere.”
That was meant to motivate, but it did the opposite for me.
Why AM I on this bike going nowhere?
I started thinking about the 7-10 hours I week I spend on that bike going nowhere each week. Although indoor cycling is great for my health, it’s also kind of a weird way to spend your time if you think about it. Wouldn’t I rather go somewhere than nowhere? And all I’m doing is sitting there on an uncomfortable seat making little circles with my legs.
But that’s how I spend my time.
Sometimes I ask families of those with dementia to tell me what their loved one enjoys doing. Usually I get a retrospective answer.
They enjoyed teaching kindergarten.
They loved to go horseback riding.
They enjoyed baking.
They liked to travel to Europe.
His main hobby was building porches and decks for friends.
I can’t say this information isn’t valuable. It’s great to know where someone has been.
But very few families tell me where their loved one is now.
Sometimes I push the issue a bit. I’ll say, “Tell me what she enjoys doing now.”
Often I get a funny look. They want to tell me about past accomplishments. Maybe there’s a certain pain in looking what the person enjoys now because, for the family, it often indicates loss.
The family members usually think for a few seconds. Then they respond tentatively because they don’t know if what they are about to tell me is what I’m looking for.
She likes to wander around our house and rearrange things.
She seems to enjoy pacing around the nursing home and asking people about the weather.
She likes coloring.
She seems to like stacking playing cards and unstacking them.
She likes petting her grandson’s stuff animals.
For families, these are not hobbies, things someone enjoys, or ways to spend time.
They are just remnants of a person who used to spend their time in productive ways.
But are these things any different than riding a bike to nowhere or watching college students try to hit balls with sticks? Are their hobbies less meaningful than my hobbies?Can I say—without a doubt—that the way they spend their time is less valuable than the way I spend my time?
I’m not the universal judge of hobbies. There really aren’t any bad hobbies, unless maybe your main hobby is cooking meth or you consider drinking a twelve pack of Coors Light each night to be a hobby.
Maybe hobbies, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder.
Why not, instead of disregarding what individuals with dementia enjoy doing, appreciate and encourage any new hobbies even if they seem like useless ways to spend time to us. After all, we all spend our time in ways others would label useless.
It’s not up to us to judge other people’s hobbies—whether or not those people have dementia. Maybe their hobbies aren’t our cup of tea. Maybe they seem trivial. Or just not enjoyable.
But we owe it to the people we love to support their hobbies, whether or not we understand them.