Caregiver Creativity: Connecting Through Legos
Loretta Veney was five when her mother gave her Legos to play with. Little did either know then that those colorful plastic bricks would be part of a lifelong bond between them and would eventually send Veney into a career path she never could have foreseen.
The bricks, given without any instructions, were meant to make the child creative but they became therapeutic for the mother, who often suffered from depression. “If she had a bad day at work, we got the Legos out. We talked through things with the Legos.”
In the decades ahead, when dementia made talking difficult for her mother, Doris Woodward, sitting together with those bricks unleashed memories and words Woodward had been unable to access. “I tried never to finish her sentences. I really believe those Lego bricks helped her find her words. They solved so many problems for us.”
Legos helped Doris “Build how she felt”
It was Legos that helped Woodward deal with the shock of her dementia diagnosis. “She was really shaken up and borderline in tears. I got out my Legos in the car and said, ‘Build how you feel.’” Veney kept Legos in the car because her mother was a nervous passenger and working with them distracted her. On that day her mother couldn’t concentrate on building. She reached for a Lego person, snapped off its head and told her daughter, “I feel like in a couple of years from now I’ll lose my head.”
Seeing the effectiveness with her mother, Veney retired in January 2021 from a 40-year career in security management and training in the Washington, D.C. area to devote her time to educating others in how to use Legos to reach people living with dementia. She does this through social media, her website (lorettaveney.com), leading workshops, writing and speaking. When she announced in January 2022 that her mother had died, she received condolences from people in 18 countries around the world who shared stories of how they had been inspired by her to use Legos with their loved ones.
“If you find something that works, you share it. I used my mother sort of as a test case. I didn’t think it would become as big as it has. My mother would be thrilled.”