KC Memory Cafe: The Goat and Pony Show

One of the stars of November’s KC Memory Cafe was a miniature horse. It’s not every day that a white horse and a couple of black goats visit the Plaza Library, accompanied by exotic bunnies and silky chickens. But these friendly animals, brought to us by the Paramount Petting Zoo, captivated all our attendees.

“These animals love to be held and petted,” their keepers told us. They instantly snuggled into people’s arms and were in no hurry to leave.  Our attendees were filled with a magical sense of connection and relaxation, mixed in with the thrill of meeting all these new animals. 

“Animals fill us with excitement, and give us something to talk about,” says Mandy Shoemaker, co-founder of Prairie Elder Care. Mandy’s organization is part of the esteemed Eden Alternative, a national movement dedicated to reducing loneliness, helplessness, and boredom through loving companionship and meaningful engagement. 

“Animals give us a connection,” she says. 

We could see and feel that connection as we all enjoyed feeding the goats, petting the horse, and cuddling with the bunnies and the chickens. We also shared farm memories and Mandy asked, “How many of you ever thought you’d be holding a chicken in your lap?”

For most, it was a unique experience, one they did not tire of. For some, parting with their loving chicken or bunny was like saying good-bye to a dear friend. 

To meet the animals, click here.

 

 

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.

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Santa and the Symphony Visit the KC Memory Cafe

 

At our December Memory Cafe, Santa had an amazing pre-show- warm-up band: a trio from the Kansas City Symphony. Their renditions of familiar holiday tunes were musical works of art, filled with melodic flourishes and surprises.  Our guests listened avidly. When Stephanie Brimhall, the Symphony’s Education Manager, led us in a singalong, everyone raised their voices and sang with heart and gusto. As our attendees finished decorating Christmas cookies with colorful icings, bright sprinkles, and little chunks of peppermint, we heard a jingling of bells and a booming, “Ho Ho Ho.” Santa had arrived, with a sack of treats. 

“How many of you have been good?” Santa asked and most of us raised our hands.  Santa made the rounds, passing out sweet treats, courtesy of Russell Stover Chocolates, and wishing everyone a merry holiday. Then he settled into a comfortable chair beside the backdrop of a scenic hearth. We all lined up to sit beside him and have our photos taken with the Great Claus.  Santa warmly welcomed each person and everyone was just thrilled to be near him — and even more thrilled when Jennifer Walker’s remarkable little printer produced a wonderful photographic memento of the event.    

At the end,  Santa summed up the holiday spirit by sharing this message: “Peace for the world and good will for all people.”  

          We hope we can all continue this spirit of hope, sharing, and generosity throughout the new year.

Capture the cafe spirit for yourself by clicking on this short video:

                     

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.

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 Santa Takes a Stand

     I saw the red outfit and overgrown white beard even before I heard the bell ringing. I reached into my pocket to dig out a few coins. This Sunday Santa looked surprisingly like a Norman Rockwell version. Then I noticed there was a glint rather than a twinkle in his blue eyes. 

     “I’m asking you to give back,” the man in red said: 

     “Excuse me?” 

     “I’m asking you to give back!” His voice was deep, but I didn’t hear the old jolliness.

      He handed me a piece of paper with the heading: Capital Campaign, The Season for Giving, S. Claus and Associates. “Have you received good service from our outfit over the years?” 

     “Well, yes, I have,” I said, remembering the red bicycle that had magically appeared when I was seven.

     “And do you feel like we have met and exceeded your expectations?”

     “Yes, I do.”   I rubbed my hands together. The wind was sharp and my fingers felt frozen.

     “I really need to get going,” I said.

Santa touched my arm. “We need your help. How would you feel if you’d been working night and day for others, trying to make wishes and dreams come true, creating astonishing presents and delivering them. How would you feel if all you ever received back was the occasional cookie and milk. I have had enough. I am asking you to give back.”

     I looked at Santa carefully and wondered if whoever hired him knew he was over the edge. I breathed in, but detected no odor of alcohol. His pupils were not dilated; his hands not frenetic. He didn’t look like he was on some mind-altering substance. 

 I reached into my wallet for a dollar or two. 

“No,” he said, pushing away the money. “I want you to truly give. Not just a spare couple of bucks. I want you to understand and appreciate what I’m doing.” 

     Part of my brain was sternly reminding me this was an ordinary man dressed in a fluffy red suit. Then, a wave of compassion pushed through me. Here was a great mythological hero asking for help! 

     Santa’s legs seemed to buckle and he sagged as though he were about to fall. I took his arm and led him into a nearby fast food place, where I bought him coffee and fries and a big burger with everything. As he ate, I pulled out my cell phone.

      “I’m going to be a few minutes late,” I told my shop manager.

     “That’s just one of the things we need,” Santa said mournfully, as I finished my call.   

      “What?” 

     “Cell phones. Can you imagine dropping down all those chimneys without calling ahead first and making sure there’s no chestnuts roasting?”

      I pictured Santa, sitting in his reindeer-driven sleigh, dialing direct and collect. I wondered how many would take the call.

       “Santa, people expect to receive from you. That’s what we love about you. All we have to do is act reasonable for a year, and we get wonderful gifts.”

      “Things change,” Santa said. “We’ve existed for years on nothing but goodwill and good cheer. But the supply is running low. I’m thinking we should forget the old fashioned approach and embrace the age of technology.”

      My throat tightened. I imagined Santa, logging in on line, charging up presents on his gold credit card, filling out W-2’s on the elves and writing up reports for OSHA and the SPCA about the reindeer. I imagined a virtual holiday, where presents simply appeared as part of an email attachment, recipients unspecified.

     “What can I do?” I asked. “Do you have a list of what you want? We always give you a list to work from.”

“I hadn’t thought of that! Of course! Can I borrow a crayon and paper?” 

     I handed Santa a pen and a page from my note pad. As he wrote, I stared out the window, watching shoppers rush past. Most of them looked anxious and overwhelmed. They would be even more anxious if they knew Santa was considering taking a Christmas off!

     Santa smiled as he handed back my pen and said, 

     “Now, I want to sit in your lap and read you my list.” 

     “What!”  

Before I could refuse, Santa had settled at least half of himself on my lap. 

“So what would you like for Christmas?” I said, in my deepest, merriest voice.

  • “A cell phone, with unlimited long distance. 
  • A new transportation system. Something that doesn’t leave hoof prints.
  • Productivity training for the elves.
  • Sensitivity training for the reindeer.
  • A new suit, something with pockets.
  • A new corporate headquarters — in a more temperate climate.

Santa bounced up and down as he recited his list. Each bounce made my legs twinge. Each word made my heart cringe. If Santa traded his charm, and his bumbling good will for high tech efficiency, the whole spirit of the holiday season would be radically changed.                                  

     “Now what?” I asked, when Santa had finished his list..

     “Now that you’ve paid some attention to me, I feel better.” Santa stood up. He fluffed his beard, brushed a few crumbs off his belly, and said, “Ho Ho, I feel richer already.  Please spread the word about giving back.”

I raced to work, feeling great. I had just given to one of the world’s champion givers. As I walked down the crowded street, I looked carefully at each rushing person, wondering who else was in need of a little good cheer.

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.

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An Old-Fashioned Holiday

This old-fashioned holiday story from Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey celebrates the spiritual aspects of living with dementia.

When I walk through the doors of the nursing home, I find my mother in her wheelchair, right in front of the medication cart, right behind the central nursing station, where nurses, delivery people, staff and family members congregate. Mom is bent over, her baby doll lying across her lap. When I walk up to her, I ratchet up my energy and widen my smile. I am preparing to clown her into a reaction.

Later my father will ask if I think she recognized me.

“No,” I will have to tell him. “She did not recognize me. But she did smile.”

The smile is important.

My hand waving and head bobbing does its work: Mom does smile, and I can tell she is in her own current version of a good mood.

“Music in the dining room,” the activity board reads, so I wheel her in that direction. An elderly man with a red and white trimmed Santa hat passes us in the hallway.

 

“Look Mom, there’s Santa,” I tell her.

Having been brought up Jewish, Mom never was all that enthralled with the Claus mythology and she has not changed.

A white-haired woman is in the dining room, busily setting up for the music program. Several patients are already gathered. The woman takes out a microphone, a boom box, an illuminated plastic snowman, and a small silver bell. I continue wheeling Mom down the far corridor, liking the sense of companionship I have from this movement.

As we stroll, a nurse carrying a plate of lettuce walks past us.

“She must have been a good mother,” she says, nodding at the way Mom is holding the baby. “She must still be a good mother.”

“She is,” I say.

I have never really said to my mom, “You were a good mother.”

Now I realize she was.

I can see that Mom is enjoying the ride. She loved movement when she was younger and was far more adventuresome than Dad when it came to airplanes, ski lifts, fast cars, and speedy boats. For her, biting breeze across the face was thrilling, not threatening. Until she became a mother, that is. Then she abandoned her pleasure in the heights and speed and concentrated on making sure we were slow, safe, and centered.

We roll back into the dining room just as the show is ready to start. The singer, Thelda, kicks off her shoes and presses play on the boom box. Above the cheerful sound track, she sings Jingle Bells. She dances across the room with the remnants of ballroom steps. She stops in front of Mom and sings right to her. She gets on her knees, so she can look into Mom’s eyes, and keeps singing. Mom notices her and smiles a little.

Thelda moves on, singing to each of the patients gathered around, so intent on making a connection that she often forgets the words.

“Is it all right for your Mom to come to Christmas holiday events?” the activity director had asked me, when Mom moved from the memory care into the skilled care portion of the nursing home.

“Yes, I’d like her to go to any activities. She likes the extra energy.”

I think Mom would approve of my decision, even though she has never celebrated Christmas. Growing up, her immigrant mother held on to the Jewish spirit of her home, kneading dough for Friday evening challah, observing each holiday and prayer period in her own way. Some orthodox women followed the religious law that commanded a small piece of the dough be burned as an offering to God. My grandmother was poor; she did not believe in burning good food, regardless of tradition. So she sacrificed a portion of the dough to her youngest daughter, my mother Fran. She created a “bread tail,” leftover dough that she smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar and baked. When Mom used to talk about her mother, she always mentioned this special treat.

Even when I was growing up, and we were the only Jewish family in our neighborhood, my mother still did not sing Christmas songs. She did not willingly go to Christmas parties. She let the holiday rush by her, like a large train, whooshing past, ruffling her hair and leaving her behind.

Now, I am singing Christmas carols to my Mom for the first time. She is smiling, though really not at me. But I am sitting beside her while she is smiling and that makes me happy. She has moved beyond the place where the religions are different, beyond the place where she wants to separate the dough and make a sacrifice for tradition. Her new tradition is anyone who can make her smile.

With each song, from White Christmas, to Silver Bells, to Frosty the Snowman, Thelda moves back to Mom, tapping her, nudging her, shaking a bell almost in her face, acting sillier and sillier. Each time, Mom lifts her head and widens her mouth for a second.

 

For her finale, Thelda puts on a big red nose and sings Rudolph. When she dances in front of Mom with that nose, Mom laughs. For several minutes, Mom stays fixated on the scarlet nose, her face a miracle in pure enjoyment. I laugh too, so delighted to see Mom engaged and absorbed. Then, Thelda dances away and Mom’s face glazes back over.

Two weeks from now, I will bring a menorah and candles into my mother’s room. My father and I will have a short Chanukah ceremony with Mom. She will pick at the shiny paper covering the Chanukah gelt (chocolate candy disguised as money). She will slump over in her chair. But she will come back to life when she sees me, her only daughter, wearing a big red nose as I light the menorah.

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.

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Eight Steps to Help People Living with Dementia Feel at Ease during Holiday Gatherings

As we move into the holiday season, Ron and I think often of our parents who went through their last holidays with dementia: my mom Frances and his father Frank. We wanted to share the season with them in ways that felt safe, comfortable, and honoring so we gradually developed these tips. Recently, we shared the tips via email and had such a great response we also want to share them with you.

Several people wrote, “These ideas are good for anyone, not just those with memory loss.”

 

What great wisdom–to treat each person with the tenderness and consideration that we often reserve for someone going through a physical or emotional illness.

We’d like to share our tips and we’d like to learn from you: what other suggestions do you have for helping people feel connected at gatherings?

Eight Steps to Help People Living with Dementia Feel at Ease during Holiday Gatherings

  • When you’re in a group, help the person living with dementia feel safe and comfortable by having a trusted friend or family member stay beside him or her, explaining the proceedings and fielding questions from others, as needed.
  •         Encourage people to say their name and maintain eye contact when conversing with the person who is living with dementia.
  •         Make sure the person can come and go from the group as needed. Create a quiet space where he or she can rest — or appoint a caring person to drive your loved one home when he tires of the festivities.
  •         Have something special for them to look at, like a family photo album or a favorite magazine.
  •         Choose background music that is familiar to them, music of their era played in a style they resonate with.
  •         Prepare a few of their favorite foods.
  •         When talking to them, don’t correct or contradict or try to pull them into the current reality. Simply listen carefully and let them talk.
  •         Appreciate them for who they are right now.

Here’s to a holiday season filled with grace, gratitude and generosity.

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Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

A Thanksgiving Love Story: Bringing Home the Gravy

Thanksgiving changed the year I went vegetarian. I did not mind giving up the tender, moist turkey or the savory oyster-specked stuffing. But giving up the flavorful flow of mushroom-laden gravy was quite another thing. I watched enviously as my family ladled the luscious liquids over their mashed potatoes, turkey and stuffing. As I nibbled dryly on my carrots, green beans and salad, my lower lip protruded. I felt left out and deprived.

My brother, Dan, ever alert to the pouting big sister, came up with a solution.

“Next year I will make special vegetarian gravy just for you,” Dan promised.

Years later, that special vegetarian gravy has become one of my favorite Thanksgiving rituals. I begin fantasizing about it the moment the autumn leaves turn crimson. I know that in mere weeks, my brother and his family will arrive and I will have my yearly boost of family and feasting, highlighted by gravy.

When my brother calls to tell me his travel plans, I write his arrival time and GRAVY on my calendar. The night he comes to town, we make the shopping list together, avidly discussing how many pounds of mushrooms we need for both the carnivore and vegetarian pots of gravy. I relish the early-Wednesday morning trip through the grocery store, where Dan and I and our children carefully select the foods we will be making the next day. We linger in the produce aisle, filling several sacks with gleaming white mushrooms and buying rustling yellow onions.

On Thanksgiving Day, Dan and I and other family members spend long, luxurious hours cooking. Dan mans the stove and I manage the slicing and chopping. Together we snap, peal, slice and dice the vegetables that will accessorize the turkey. I take special pleasure in wiping clean and slicing the mushrooms, then bringing my brother the brimming bowlful. When he has nodded his approval, I get out the old copper pot I bought in Germany in the early seventies. This year, Dan is improving his already amazing gravy. With his new immersion blender, he creates a rich base of caramelized onions, whose flavor surpasses that of the lowly vegetable cube. He adds in a little flour, then gentles the mushrooms into the onion broth. When the pot is bubbling with thickening nectar, he says, “Taste this and see what you think.”

I always think the same thing—“Wow, this is great.”

We are in a state of giddy and satisfied exhaustion by the time our guests arrive. We share grateful prayers with everyone and lay out the feast, including plenty of turkey-based gravy for the rest of the family.

Then comes the moment I have been waiting for: I sit down, my own personal pot of gravy poised by my plate. I cover the mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, and salad with the aromatic concoction and I savor every bite. But more importantly, I savor the bounty, creativity, and love that have gone into this simple dish. Through this gravy, my brother speaks with his hands and his heart, saying: “I care about you and I am going to make sure you are not left out and that you have something fantastic to eat.”

For that and so much more, I am thankful.

…………

And now, if you’d like to create a Thanksgiving love story, bring home this delicious gravy.

Dan Barnett’s Chicago Style  Never-Enough-Mushroom Vegetarian Gravy

Ingredients

2 large onions (chopped)

2 pounds (or more) white button mushrooms sliced (can add some portabellas for enhanced flavor)

1 cup of white wine (of lesser quality)

Salt & pepper to taste

Olive oil

Directions

To create the gravy base:

In a four -quart pot, pour a thin layer of olive oil and turn the burner on medium.

Add the onions and sauté for10-15 minutes until they are caramelized (golden brown)

Add water until the pot is about half full.

Simmer slowly for 30 minutes.

Blend the onion water mixture using either an immersion blender or by transferring the mixture to a food processor.

Once you have the gravy base

Add the 2 pounds (or more) of sliced mushrooms, white wine and fill the pot with water until it is 3/4 full.

Simmer for 30 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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.

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Dementia Arts to Draw us Together

September’s Memory Cafe featured a lively team of educators from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Using the arts to draw us together, they  showed us the Chinese art form of painting pictures of bamboo.  About fifty of us gathered in the the library’s spacious lower level. Colorful plastic cloths covered our tables, making it easy to distinguish our drawing paper and painting supplies. All of us eagerly dipped our special bamboo brushes into the ebony paint and made short pushing movements, replicating segments of the plant’s stalk. Then our educators showed us drawings of bamboo foliage and we experimented with wispy thin lines of leaves.

“I’m glad we’re only using black watercolor,” one of the professional care partners told me. “All of us painting with the same color puts us on common ground.”
Our common ground continued as our teacher said, “Now, we’re going to pass out large sheets of paper.” We all oohed and aahed and let our strokes grow larger and more confident. At the end, each person created a design in a small wedge of clay, pressed the clay into a red stamp pad, and adorned the painting with our own personal “signature.”
Of course, all artists need nourishment and we had wonderful treats courtesy of Kansas City Medicine Partners, Kingswood, Partners in Primary Care, and Morningside Place.
Want to explore using arts to draw you together? Here are some tips fromConnecting in the Land of Dementia, inspired by Berna Huebner, co-director of the documentary, I Remember Better When I Paint.
• Try different types of art in different venues to see what resonates with your partner.

• To add extra meaning, connect the artistic activity with something in your partner’s past.

• Invite an intergenerational mixture of artists, from children, grandchildren, art students, and volunteers to join your partner and add encouragement. 

• Create a variety of art-related activities, including visiting galleries or looking at pictures from magazines, as well as painting, drawing or various media. 

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.

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Czech Mates in Dementia Care: Laughter Yoga in Prague

The table was spread with an array of Czech delicacies: apple strudel, special sandwiches with flowers of ham atop fresh baguettes, a bountiful tray of strawberries, grapes, and apple slices. 

“This is the way we welcome people here in Prague,” said Lucie Hajkova, social worker and coordinator of respite care for the Czech Alzheimer’s Society.

Ron and I were visiting the Gerontological Centre and the Czech Alzheimer’s Society, which are both housed in the same building. The two organizations work together to offer clients everything they need, from psychological counseling, to memory testing, to social work services, to healthcare. We came to learn and to present a laughter yoga session.

We gathered with staff members around the table to learn about the center, which was started in 1997 by Iva Holmerova, MD. along with Hana Janeckova, PhD. Hana was putting together training materials for caregivers when she was contacted by Alzheimer’s Disease International. They wanted to know more about her work and they invited her to an international conference in Jerusalem. That conference was a turning point. Hana left it inspired and determined to help Czech families that were dealing with dementia. She contacted Iva and both saw the need to offer education, diagnosis, support, and care for people living with dementia and their families in the Czech Republic. Today, both centers are flourishing.

We were impressed with the dementia services they offered, which included home care for people who need help with bathing, dressing, eating, exercise or more. The building holds a respite center. When families need renewal time, or when people living with dementia need extra care or healing time, they can stay in respite for up to a month. The Centre also hosts a day program that offers a variety of activities in a homey and comfortable setting, 

Even more impressive than the Society’s services were its staff. Each had a passion for this work, a love for those who are living with dementia, and a compassion for their families.  

We had a wonderful time sharing a laughing session at the day center—our first international facilitation. We sat in a beautiful circle of people living with dementia, staff, family,  and friends. We couldn’t have done it without our translator, Eliska, who captured the energy and essence of what we were saying. And once we all started laughing, we were beyond the constraints of language. Click here to experience a bit of laughter in Prague.

 

 

 

 

Photo Caption: 

Eliska Brouckova, psychologist, consultant/advisor for people with dementia and their care givers

Martina Matlova, Director

Petr Veleta, PhD, dancer, dance therapist

Marketa Splichalova, psychologist, consultant/advisor for people with dementia and their care givers

Eva Jarolimova, PhD, psychologist, consultant for people with dementia and their care givers

Hana Janeckova, PhD, co- founder of the Czech Alzheimer Society, head of governing board of Czech Alzheimer Society, University teacher, researcher

Lucie Hajkova, social worker, coordinator of respite care in homes of people with dementia.

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.

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Movies and Memories: Traveling the World Without Leaving Kansas City:

“I’ve traveled the world. Our family moved a lot when we were young,” one of our guests told us, at our August Movies and Memories program. She and her husband bent over our world map and stuck stars on some of the many places they’d lived. Another guest sighed when he looked at the map and saw Vietnam. He had served in the military there. A couple talked about living in Berlin when the Wall came down. 

Our Movies and Memories travel films included forays into Paris, Iceland, Capetown, and Seoul. 

“It was relaxing just watching the scenes from Paris,” said Ah’Lee Robinson, director of the Kansas City Boys and Girls Choirs. He and his singers treated us to an inspiring concert, warming us up for the films. 

“Oh dear, now I want to go to Iceland,” another guest said. 

In between clips, we passed around exotic spices for everyone to smell. At the end of the movies and memories adventure, everyone took home a special “Passport” booklet, created by the library’s Emily Cox, so they could record impressions and memories.  To experience the event, click here.

Here are some passport questions to discuss at home:

Share some travel memories.

What is one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever visited?

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled?

What country has the best food?

How many of the US states have you visited?

Thanks to our wonderful volunteers, Sharon and Julie, who brighten our events by bringing treats, making popcorn, and making everyone feel so at home.

Thanks to Craig Eichelman, State Director, AARP, for helping us spread the word about this program.

We are so grateful for the continuing support from the Kansas City Public Library. They are amazing champions for people who are living with dementia and their care partners. They also provide scholarships for hard-working people whose higher education has been interrupted by life circumstances. Their community programs benefit early readers, job seekers, and people who are new to KC. Ron and I use their books and other services every week!

Please join us for our next adventure — Moana. This movie is so inspiring and great for all ages.

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.

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Celebrating Great Connectors Throughout the Dementia Journey: Music, Nature, and Laughter

When care partners gather and trade stories and ideas, there’s usually magic afoot. We felt that magic when we met with a group of family and professional care partners to celebrate great connectors throughout the dementia journey. We presented engaging ideas using music, nature, laughter and more.

Lisa Vetter, Director of Healthcare Sales & Marketing,  Santa Marta Senior Living Community, invited us to speak at an event announcing the community’s new care partner support group. The group is led by Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN, Clinical Community Liaison, Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care. Jennifer also facilitates the KC Memory Cafe and she is compassionate, informed, and smart. Most importantly, she has a fantastic sense of humor.

Ron and I shared ways to stay connected through singing and music, looking at works of art together, bringing nature indoors, and laughing. And our audience shared their experiences as well.  

Here’s a story about nature that inspired us.

Marcie took her mom, who was living with dementia, on a fascinating monthly outing: they drove out into the country to look at the full moon. Her mother didn’t talk much anymore, but she loved seeing the night sky and gazing at the magnificent moon. One evening, as the moonlight spread over the car, Mom began singing, When the moon comes over the mountain. Marcie had never heard the song before and her eyes filled with tears at hearing her mom sing so strongly and clearly. 

Here’s a story about the power of familiar music. Karen’s mom was a devout Catholic, living with dementia. Though there were many things she didn’t remember, including her daughter’s name, when she attended Sunday mass, she melodically sang every word of every hymn. 

We loved sharing with this group of dedicated and compassionate care partners, who were all seeking ways to stay connected. 

Here’s an extra tip from Connecting in the Land of Dementia:  When you want to boost energy and lift spirits, add a splash of laughter into your life. Look at a clock and say, “We’re going to laugh for 30 seconds,” and start ha ha ha-ing. Or pretend you’re talking on the phone and hearing a hilarious joke. Or warble out the Ha Ha Chorus by singing the Happy Birthday song in “ha ha ha” syllables. 

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.

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