Our hosts started the program with a beautiful hymn of gratitude, a perfect way to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of connecting and laughing in the land of dementia. We met in the Salvation Army Church and Community Centre in historic downtown Falmouth, Jamaica, with a group of caregivers and community advocates. During our time together, we shared stories, information, laughter exercises, and creative ideas for taking care of ourselves and staying engaged.
For many, this was an introduction to dementia. For others, who were in the midst of caregiving, this was a time of learning and sharing.
Ron and I talked about the importance of accepting each other as we are, no matter what we are going through. We discussed the power of having a purpose and how vital it is for all of us to have meaningful relationships and interesting experiences. .
”When communicating with people who are living with dementia, don’t argue,” Shirley Duncan reminded everyone. “Don’t criticize. Be there to support and appreciate.”
“When we are kind to ourselves, then we are better able to be kind to others,” one of our attendees said.
We discussed Dr. Cameron Camp’s concept of cognitive ramps, offering people the assistance they need to remain engaged in the activities they love. Here’s one example from our session: Lorna’s mother was a professional cook, completely at home in the kitchen. As her dementia progressed, she could no longer remember the family’s favorite recipes. But she could sit in the kitchen and enjoy the energy of cooking. And when Lorna’s daughter said, “We are going to make your famous stew. Does it have an onion in it?” the mother smiled and nodded. Ingredient by ingredient, they consulted her, and she smiled and nodded at the mention of the right ingredients. Even though she wasn’t physically creating the meal, she was an integral part of the process.
We talked about the power of music, sharing ideas from Dan Cohen’s Music and Memory program and introduced people to the personal playlist. We had an impromptu Conductorcise session, using Maestro David Dworkin’s aerobic and ground-breaking program, pretending we were conducting a symphony orchestra. We used laughter syllables to make it even more fun and soon everyone was standing up and conducting and laughing.
We shared a story from Karen Stobbe, reminding us all to affirm and appreciate and to use the improv technique, “Yes and…” to ignite and invite conversation.
Throughout our discussion, we wove in laughter exercises.
We enjoyed an imaginary laughter swim. We batted around laughter balloons and cooked up a laughter stew that included fish, pumpkin, garlic, carrots, Irish potatoes and okra.
At the end, we breathed in our gratitudes, closed our eyes and sent our feelings of love, connection, and laughter into the world, hopefully to help and inspire others.
A special thanks for the dementia advocates and community volunteers who brought everything together, including Dundeen Ferguson, Shirley Duncan, Sandra Latibeaudiere, Elise Thomas, and Lorna Colley. And thanks to everyone who attended.
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.