“How do we stay connected during the dementia journey?” This is a question with dozens of creative answers. Recently, we spent time at Northland Shepherd Center, hosted by Dianna Englander. We were sharing ideas for staying connected with the Together We Care Caregiver Support Group, a lovely gathering of family caregivers and friends.
Caregiving is such a creative practice, demanding flexibility, humor, and the willingness to make mistakes and try again. We discussed ideas from Connecting in the Land of Dementia, including incorporating singing, laughter, and art into everyday life. We also explored the power of nature and talked about unique concepts for bringing the outdoors inside. We brainstormed different ways we could prepare food together and connect in the kitchen.
Here are some extra ideas we learned from our audience. I’ve changed the names to protect people’s privacy.
Anne’s father, who was normally very active, became very upset when his care facility had to temporarily curtail his movements, due to a flu outbreak.
“I want to go to the hospital,” he told the care staff repeatedly. Finally, they called Anne and asked her to come over.
“Dad was just wild,” she told us. “So I asked him to take a deep breath with me, and told him we were going to watch a basketball game before we problem-solved.” They watched an hour of basketball, which soothed both of them.
“I want to go to the hospital,” her father said.
“Why?” she asked.
“So I won’t feel alone,” he said. “I’m scared to be alone.”
Anne realized how social her father was, always walking down the hallways, greeting people, spending time visiting. She instantly began to problem solve, getting permission to walk down the corridors, wearing protective masks, gathering phone numbers of her father’s friends at the home, so he could call them.
“Taking a break and doing something soothing first really helped us figure out the problem and then solve it,” she said.
Before her dementia advanced, Sandra’s friend loved singing in the church choir. Now, when Sandra visits her, her friend frequently asked the same question over and over. Sandra turns to beloved hymns they both know so well and when her friend becomes anxious, starts singing to change the energy. Soon, they are both singing, as they have for so many years, the old hymns guiding them back to a deep connection.
Patriotic songs inspired Alvin’s father, Fred. So often, Fred literally tuned out the singers who came to entertain at his memory care community. One day, the group began singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” Instantly, Fred stood and put his hand over his heart. He sang along and kept standing and singing through all the familiar patriotic melodies. Afterwards, he talked about his time in the service, breaking his usual stoic silence.
At the end, we all felt a sense of renewal and companionship. Sharing these important creative ideas had enriched our lives and inspired us anew.
I’d love to hear your ideas for staying connected. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Northland Shepherd Center, visit http://northlandsc.org/about-nsc.html
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.