Creativity

Widening the World Through Travel

As the waiter served dessert, Lori La Bey looked around the table at her family and smiled. She couldn’t believe she had pulled this off — her children, her siblings and their children, and her parents all enjoying a Caribbean cruise together.  Her mother was living with Alzheimer’s and her father had brain cancer: they had assumed they wouldn’t get to travel again. They were beaming and Lori knew all her planning had been worth it. She was widening the world through travel.

She still treasures the family pictures from this trip. This meaningful travel experience inspired Lori, founder and host of  Alzheimer’s Speaks, to orchestrate a cruise for people who are living with dementia and their families.

“Travel is a normal part of life,” Lori says. “When you stop traveling, your world becomes smaller.”

From her years caring for her mom, Lori understands how easy it is to feel isolated and stuck. She also understands the joy of engaging in the world, trying new things, and meeting new people. Her trip enriched her family and she wants to offer others that gift of connection and adventure.

Lori also learned some tips from traveling with her parents. Here are a few ideas for creating a smooth traveling experience for yourself and for someone who is living with dementia:

Create a flexible travel experience. Lori chose cruising because it can be reasonably priced, you can unpack once and stay in the same room the entire trip, and there’s lots of flexibility with eating (including free room service), activities, and touring. Cruising is also ideal for the intergenerational experience, offering activities for all ages.

Make the person living with dementia part of planning the trip. Discuss the trip with all involved, asking for feedback and talking about what each person really wants to do. Incorporate those dreams into the trip.

Empower your travelers. Lori packed all her parents things into one giant suitcase. Her father had always been the one managing the luggage and he really wanted something to carry. “I hadn’t thought to pack a couple of small bags so he and my mom could feel like regular travelers,” Lori says. “People want something to be in charge of so they don’t feel left out.”

Work with a travel agent and make your life easier. Plan in advance for noise, long transfers, layovers, long car rides, and other chaos. If flying, call the airport if you need to arrange for wheelchairs or other inner airport transportation. To mute noises, bring earplugs. Carry along items that soothe and comfort each of us, including favorite music and head phones. If you’re cruising, talk to the cruise lines in advance, discussing special needs, including dietary, medical, and any mobility issues.

Take pictures and videos and document these precious moments. You’ll enjoy looking through these memories again and again together.

“Travel is about being together and widening your world,” Lori says.  “It’s a wonderful way to build those moments of magical and meaningful connection.”

For an amazing way to widen your world, consider Lori’s upcoming November Dementia Friendly Conference and Cruise. Lori and a team of educators, including a panel of inspiring people who are living with dementia, have planned a nurturing, connecting, educational, and inspiring Caribbean trip. For more information, visit, https://alzheimersspeaks.com/cruise-with-us

 

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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How to Create Better Connections in the Land of Dementia

Ron and I both love helping people create better connections in the land of dementia.  We are enjoying the second year of our meaningful Movies and Memories film series.  Our next free movie events (and I say “events’ because there is so much more than just sitting and watching a film) are September 10 and November 5.  Please tune into Kansas City Live on KSHB-TV on Thursday, September 7 during the 10:00 hour, for additional details. 

I was delighted to be featured on Mike Good’s Together in This recent podcast. Mike is a gifted interviewer, with an authentic voice and a true commitment to help people stay better connected. I so enjoyed our time together and wanted to share the interview with you.

Recently, we have been connecting through creating laughing classes for caregivers, elders, people who are living with dementia, and others. We love going around to care communities and laughing with community members, family, and staff. Our next public laughter presentation is at the Landon Center, on October 18 at noon. It’s free and open to the public. If you’re in the Kansas City area, please come laugh with us. It’s great fun!

A quick laughing exercise

I was honored to have a book excerpt featured on Maria Shriver’s website.  Maria does amazing work and her new book, Color Your Mind, is a visual and information treat, full of inspiring ideas.

I was thrilled when a story of mine was accepted by Chicken Soup’s The Dog Really Did That? The story honors Ron’s mom, Mollie, and her love for a dog named Biscuit. If you have a chance, read my story and so many other great essays in this inspiring book.

Finally, thanks to Mary Anne Clagett of Creative Forecasting, a publication for Activities Professionals. She is featuring a review of Connecting in the Land in their November issue. The publication brims with interesting ideas for creative and meaningful activities.

There are so many ways to Create Better Connections in the Land of Dementia, and as you can see, there is power in sharing stories, laughter, and the arts. 

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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Enrich Life by Adapting Hobbies 

We all want to be engaged in purposeful and fun activities. When we enrich life by adapting hobbies, we help people living with dementia stay engaged in activities that are meaningful and interesting to them.

Discover What’s Most Important

To adapt hobbies, ask yourself: What is most important about the activity?

For example, for gardeners, is it the feel of their hands in the soil? Is it producing flowers or harvesting vegetables? Is it having something to take care of?

For those who like quilting, is it the finished product or making the squares? Is it the companionship with other quilters? Or the texture and colors of the fabric?

For those who like cooking, is it the measuring and stirring? Do they enjoy the aromas and textures of the ingredients? Is it the joy of preparing something that thrills others? Or is it the simple pleasure of tasting delicious foods?

With those answers, you can support the aspects of the activity that really resonate. You can enrich life by adapting hobbies.

Here is a story about adapting your attitude.

Embrace the New News

That Tuesday morning, she walked into the kitchen and saw her husband, relaxed in his chair, drinking his morning coffee, and reading the newspaper. He loved his morning ritual and everything was as it always had been. Except now he was holding the newspaper upside down. At first, she was upset, angry that dementia had robbed him of reading. As she battled with her feelings, he hummed, a sign he was happy and content. She took a breath and realized, she too should be happy and content.

Go for the Greens

I love this story from Mara Botoni, author of When Caring Takes Courage. Here’s how she kept her grandfather, who was living with dementia,  involved in his golf game. For a time, he walked the golf course and played with empathetic friends. When he could no longer play, he liked being driven around the course, enjoying the scent of freshly mown grass, the vistas of rolling green lawns, and the thwack of a well-hit ball. Later, at home, the family set up an indoor putting green and watched golf tournaments on television with him.

 

 

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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A Better Visit in the Land of Dementia

I’m always amazed at how a change of perspective can widen your heart and open your eyes. This is a story of how my friend helped me look at my mom in a new way and gave me me a better visit in the land of dementia.

Many weekday afternoons I stole away from my workday for a little rendezvous. I drove far into the southern part of the city.

There I hurried through the lobby, walked swiftly down the corridors and until I reached the locked door. There I punched in a secret code that allowed me into the inner sanctum, the memory care unit where my mother lived.

Walking into my mother’s room was always a surprise: I never knew who would greet me; a sweet curly-haired woman wearing a pink sweat suit and looking quietly compose? An anxious haggard woman who bent to pick up invisible lint on the floor and jabbered with invisible creatures lurking in the corners? Or an exhausted former beauty, lying across the single bed wearing an orange pullover and an adult diaper? My task was to appreciate every aspect of my complicated mother and whoever she was at the moment.

When my friend Maril asked, “Can I go with you to visit your mother?” I felt like a flutter of angels had gathered around me.

“Really?” I asked. “You want to see Mom with me?”

She did. I prepared her for our visit, describing Mom’s various moods. Maril did not seem shocked, worried or afraid. I told her about walking into the sometimes chaotic energy of the locked Alzheimer’s unit. She simply nodded as if this were an ordinary occurrence, which, for me, it was.

The day of our visit I felt lightness inside; I was eager to share my secret world with my friend.

Throughout the years, Mom has always been gracious with my friends and that day was no exception. Mom was sitting at a table in the dining room with a magazine in front of her. She looked pretty and serene and she smiled when we came in. We sat next to her and Maril took her hands.

“How are you Fran?” Maril said, looking into my mother’s eyes.

“Well I you know the scatter of it all,” my mother answered.

“I do know the scatter of it all. How are you getting along here?”

“Like a diamond in the sky,” my mother said.

As I listened to my mother and my friend talk, I was  so moved.

“Your mother is really something,” Maril said as we left the home. “I enjoyed seeing her. I’d like to go again with you sometime.” I was proud of my mother’s poetic and eccentric answers, proud of the way she engaged in the conversation. And I was grateful that my friend was able to appreciate my mother, listen to her words and intuit their deeper  meaning.

The visit was a huge gift for me. Seeing Maril engage with and appreciate my mom just as she was reminded me of the depths of my mother’s many talents and facets. This knowledge later helped me get through those moments when my mother seemed faraway or lost. My friend reminded me that there are so many ways to carry on a good conversation. All you need is attention, intention and love.

 

 

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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Connecting Through Reading Together: Wisdom from Anne Vize

Connecting through reading together has always been part of my life, starting with my mother reading me Mother Goose and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Even when Mom was living with dementia and could no longer track a Shakespearian play or a complicated novel, she loved holding books and she enjoyed hearing lyrical poetry. I was excited when I discovered the work of Anne Vize, Curriculum and education writer, instructional designer, and author of  ‘Reading in the moment – activities and stories to share with adults with dementia’ published by Speechmark.

Anne graciously shared her insights for this blog.

Connecting Through Reading Together: Wisdom from Anne Vize

Why is reading together so important?

Reading is a powerful but sadly often forgotten tool for supporting people who have dementia. Sometimes people worry that they might not read fluently enough, or they might make mistakes when they read, and so avoid doing it all together. But people have been reading together throughout time, and the idea of sharing pose, poetry and stories is an integral part of who we are as people. Just because someone has dementia does not mean they are unable to benefit from the joy of sharing a moment in time, with a great book or piece of text.

How do you get started?

Start small and keep the reading sessions to around 10-15 minutes to begin with. Plan ahead so you know what you are going to read and the sort of ‘voice’ you will use to read it. Some texts are more suited to a bouncy, entertaining voice while others are better suited to a slow, lyrical, smooth reading style. Pick the one that suits the piece you are reading, as well as the one that suits who you are as a reader.

How do you set the scene? 

Sometimes a sensory experience to begin with can be useful, or a brief discussion about the personal experiences of the listener that might relate to the story. You can make a link with seasonal activities such as Easter, Christmas, Passover, Independence Day or Anzac Day, but be aware that these festive or commemorative times might trigger particular memories for some people that might be unintended. Be sensitive and make sure you know a little about the piece you have chosen and the person you are reading to.

What kinds of stories/books do you suggest? 

Read something you are comfortable with. Avoid texts with long, complex sentence structures or multiple characters, as these can be difficult for the person living with dementia to follow. Focus on stories you can read in a single session, with a limited number of characters, and a plot that only moves in a forwards direction (not something that jumps from one period of time to another, as sometimes happens in the short story genre).

How do you use the stories as conversation catalysts? 

You can link what you read with a discussion, activity, or sensory experience, if it seems appropriate. For example, you could read the Australian bush poet Banjo Patterson and then combine this with a sensory experience looking at photos of the Australian bush, exploring plants, and leaves outdoors or listening to the sounds that horses hooves might make on the ground. If you are comfortable wearing a bush hat (called an Akubra in Australia) and a check shirt as you read some bush poetry, all the better!

Books, globe and glasses isolated on white background with a clipping path.

How do you make the experience meaningful and fun? 

Use your judgment and knowledge of the person you are reading to. Think about her needs and personal comfort and monitor how she is faring during your reading session. Think about sensory elements in the room that might interfere with your reading,  such as outside noises, distractions outside the window, people moving in and out with meals or drinks, and the like. These can all take away from your reading experience.

Reading has a tendency to create a feeling of peace, calm and harmony for people and can be a trigger for more conversation and interaction. Even if the person does not recall the reading experience after you have finished, they will retain the mood and feeling that the piece has created for them and this may well last for long after the actual reading experience has ended.

To learn more about Anne, please visit, https://www.facebook.com/pg/Anne-Vize-Writing-Services-126820110730385/posts/?ref=page_internal

Reading in the Moment: Activities and Stories to Share with Adults with Dementia

https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Moment-Activities-Stories-Dementia-ebook/dp/B073RPNFXZ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1501074110&sr=1-

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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The Marvels of Misplacing

As I was worrying over this issue, which seems to plague so many people I know, I came across this piece I wrote several years ago. It reminded me to “seek” the creativity and joy hidden in every situation.  
Is it possible to have ten pairs of reading glasses and lose them all in the same afternoon?

“I don’t know where my glasses are,” Mom tells me. I bite my lip; she’s been misplacing things all day. We are supposed to be spending a day drawing and painting, trying to connect mom with the artist she used to be. We are supposed to bake cookies together and look through magazines. But I’ve been spending much of the time crawling around, looking under the sofa and chairs and between the cushions for the disappearing glasses.

“Let’s make our cookies. You won’t need your glasses for that,” I say.

“I need my glasses.”

           As I search, I wonder when it became a drudgery instead of a joy to find things. One of my favorite childhood games was Hide ‘N Seek. I loved being the Seeker, loved the surprise of finding someone in a tucked away, mysterious place. I had a special trick I used when I was “It.” I would close my eyes and say, “If I were Dan, where would I hide?” Then an image floated into my mind and I’d race to the hiding place. Half the time, I was right.

Do I still have “it?” I close my eyes and think, “If I were Mom’s glasses, where would I be?” The refrigerator comes to my mind. I rush into the kitchen and fling open the refrigerator door, only to see the usual chaos. But I’m hungry, so I reach for an apple. Behind the fruit is a pair of reading glasses, sprawled across the shelf.

Triumphantly, I take the glasses to Mom.

“These feel nice,” she says.

Not only has my mother reminded me of the importance of creativity, curiosity and play, but she also discovered a great summer time tip: chill your glasses and cool off your face.

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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Boost Energy with Savvy Smoothies

Ever wish you could have an instant jolt of muscle and energy like Popeye did when he gulped down his can of vitamin-rich spinach? I asked renowned cookbook writer and fiction author Judith Fertig for some easy and healthy ways for us all to boost energy with savvy smoothies.  Judith agreed to share a few of her favorite quick, refreshing, nutritious, and delicious recipes.

Secrets for Succulent Smoothies, From Judith Fertig

Smoothies can be a caregiver’s caregiver. These blended drinks offer big nutrition in a small package, can be made in minutes, and make us feel like we’re doing something good for ourselves.

Smoothie recipes are like blueprints—they’re meant to be changed to follow what’s fresh, what’s in season, or what we feel like drinking. Berries, greens, melon, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, celery, carrots and stone fruits like peaches and mangoes add antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. A tablespoon or two of healthy fats such as milled flax seeds, hemp or nut butter can add richness to the flavor, while providing omega-3 fatty acids necessary for complete nutrition. For the finale, add a touch of sweetness from fruits, maple syrup, agave nectar or stevia, or fresh lemon or lime juice.

 

The best way to mix a smoothie is to start with either a liquid or an ingredient with a thicker consistency, like yogurt, placed in a blender or high-powered smoothie mixer. Next, add the desired fruits or vegetables and flavorings. It’s better to start on a slower speed while holding down the lid tightly. Once everything is blended, increase the speed to high to achieve a more velvety texture. If the smoothie is too thin, add more frozen fruit or ice.

Smooth-fleshed fruits like mangoes, bananas, ripe peaches and nectarines blend more easily to a silky finish than do fresh berries. Tender, baby greens such as spinach, kale or chard virtually disappear within a smoothie; if using mature, rather than baby greens, cut out the stems unless the blender or mixer is extremely powerful.

Blending enough ingredients for two smoothies can yield a leftover serving to store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator. To reactivate the full taste later, just turn over the jar and give it a good shake to re-blend the ingredients.

Brilliant Green Smoothie

 

Yields 2 servings

2 cups water

4 cups baby spinach

2 cups chopped butter lettuce, escarole, or romaine

1 large banana, cut into chunks

The juice of a lemon

Combine the water, spinach, lettuce, and banana and blend using low to high speeds until smooth. Add lemon juice and blend again.

Peachy Watermelon

Yields 2 servings

2-3 cups watermelon, seeded

1 cup low-fat vanilla-flavored dairy or coconut yogurt

1 cup frozen strawberries

1 fresh peach, peeled, pitted, cut into chunks and frozen

Combine all ingredients and blend from low to high speed until smooth.

Cool as a Cucumber Smoothie

Yields 2 servings

1 cup apple juice

1 cup sliced sweet apple

¼ cup applesauce

½ cup sliced carrots

½ cup cucumber, peeled and sliced

2 cups ice

Dash of nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

Combine all ingredients and blend from low to high speed until smooth.

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Sometimes after I eat something truly healthy, such as s savvy smoothie, I develop a craving for something darkly chocolate. If you have such cravings, you’ll want to buy Judith’s cookbook Bake Happy. And if you crave something delicious to read, try her fiction series, The Cake Therapist and The Memory of Lemon.

For more great gourmet ideas, visit her website: www.alfrescofoodandlifestyle.blogspot.com/

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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Boost Body and Spirit with Nature: Tips for Care Partners and People Living with Dementia

“I can’t imagine a world where I couldn’t enjoy outdoor pleasures whenever I want,” said Mike Good, founder of Together in This. As I listened to Mike’s Podcast on the power of nature, I thought of my mother. Mom taught me to love birds, flowers, trees, and mountains. Even in her last days, a yellow rose could catch her attention, inspire her to reach out and touch its tender petals. This simple activity helped boost body and spirit with nature.

There’s increasing research that backs up what I observed with my mom. Strolling or wheeling around a courtyard, sitting on a bench underneath an apple tree, observing a bunny nibble clover, watching someone water a tomato plant — all these outdoor events enhance physical and mental well-being, including improving sleep cycles and reducing agitation.

Garuth Chalfont, PhD, American Society of Landscape Architects, and author of the book, Dementia Green Care, says,  “Nature-oriented activities, such as growing and caring for plants, promote brain neuroplasticity and help us dream, experiment, learn and create. Research shows that nature-based activity is therapeutic and is essentially a form of treatment for dementia symptoms, helping a person remain at home longer.” Garuth is internationally known for his work in designing, building, and researching gardens that benefit people with dementia.

Mike Good says, “The feel of sunshine on my face, the smell of flowers blooming, the sounds of kids frolicking in the park — while these pleasures naturally occur for most of us, millions of people who are living with dementia find themselves unable to enjoy such routine pleasures without assistance”

Taking a loved one who is living with dementia outdoors can be stressful, but staying cooped up inside is hard on both of you. Here is a bouquet of nature’s benefits, inspiring for both people who are living with dementia and those who care for them.

Relaxing outdoor activities

Gardening activities, such as container gardening, planting seeds, watering, weeding, harvesting, sharing flowers and fruits and vegetables

Walking around the yard or strolling through the neighborhood

Discussing people and dogs walking by, asking open-ended questions, such as “Where do you think they’re going?”

Installing a small fountain and a bench, then sitting and enjoying the sound of the water

Sharing a picnic lunch

Drawing or painting outdoors

For those who enjoy projects, have tools visible and available. For a woodworker, set out wood and sandpaper. For a frail gardener, have a container of herbs. For those who like to tidy the yard, offer gardening gloves and a bucket to deposit leaves and twigs.

Bringing Nature Indoors

Garuth says, “If going outdoors is not feasible, look around your living quarters and ask, ‘Where are the best outdoor views? Where is the most sunlight?’ You may need to cut down a light-blocking bush or move a sofa, but you will discover areas where you and your partner can enjoy sitting and watching nature.”

Open the curtains and blinds to let in light.

In temperate weather, open windows and welcome fresh air and birdsong.

Green up the room with houseplants.

Bring in flowers or herbs to stimulate the senses.

Create a comfortable viewing area, with feeders, so you can enjoy watching birds and squirrels.

Gather potting soil, water, and green bean seeds. Spoon the soil into small pots or into an empty egg carton. Place one seed in each and cover with soil, then pour in a little water.

“Touching soil and planting may trigger memories and ideas from earlier years,” Garuth says.

Gathering flowers, walking a tree-lined sidewalk, plucking a cherry tomato off its vine, watering a house plant, gazing out the window at chickadees — these meaningful natural activities increase pleasure, relaxation, social interactions, and sensory stimulation.

For more information about Mike Good and his work, visit http://togetherinthis.com/ and view his nature video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7KWaSUHVQo

To learn more about Garuth’s work, visit http://www.chalfontdesign.com/  and http://www.chalfontdesign.com/lifework.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.

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Passing Down the Punchline: A Father’s Day Retrospective

This blog is a tribute to my father, an honoring of my amazing brother, and a chance to share one of my dad’s favorite jokes. I welcome your favorite jokes and I wish you a lovely day of celebrating good fathers. Warmly,  Deborah

THE JOKES ON HIM

formica tableIt’s the fifties. My brother Dan and I sit opposite each other at the Formica kitchen table; my mother and father sit on each end.. We are eating Swiss steak, mashed potatoes and mushy-looking peas. My father is telling us about this sales call he had today. As he begins the story, Dan and I listen carefully. We want to see who can be the first to figure out if it’s regular boring adult conversation or a joke.

“So the man says to me,” my father says.

I screw up my mouth and nod at Dan. He nods back. It’s definitely a joke.

Some fathers like to train their kids by tossing them balls, wanting them to hone their catching and pitching skills. Dad tossed us one liners and puns, watching to see how quickly we caught on.

“My brother called the other day,” Dad would say and we all believed that Uncle Lou really had called until we were socked in the stomach with the punch line.

As we got older, Dan and I learned to keep our faces deadpan, to give my father no hope, no clue that we knew he was trying to be funny. We learned to sit still for several seconds after we had been surprised by a punch line and then, dissolve into  spirited laughter if it was really funny or loud groaning if it was really terrible.

Despite all this exposure to fabulous stories, great deliveries and rollicking punch lines, neither my brother nor I are joke tellers. I like to throw spontaneous one liners into conversation, but cannot remember a long involved story. My brother has always been laid back, offering at most an occasional bon mot.

motelFast forward to the nineties. We’re at a family reunion and it’s raining for the third day in a row. Twenty of us are crammed into my parents’ motel room eating a picnic lunch off drooping paper plates. My nephews squirm around, playing with various plastic weapons; my daughters and my niece sprawl languidly on one of the queen-size beds. Mom and I and a couple cousins camp on the other bed. Dan sits in a chair, reading a Richard Ford novel. My father paces in front of the television.

The noise in the room builds and my father stands still, then smoothes his shirt.  I can tell from his posture that he is going to tell us a joke. My father does not silence the room. He does not have to. Dan and I are always alert for the first sign of our highest role: audience. Dan looks over at his two sons and cocks an eyebrow. I look at my daughters and nod once. They instantly quiet.

“This rain reminds me of the time I took my dog to the movies,” my father says.

Dan and I grin at each other. There is no dog in the history of our family.

dog in theater 3“This dog was smart and loved for me to sneak him into the movies.” My father’s voice is so smooth and lulling, I almost believe this dog was part of our household. “One day I got caught and the manager made me promise to never bring that dog to the movies again. But one rainy night, I couldn’t resist.” He looks to Mom for confirmation and good sport that she is, she smiles back. “I sneak the dog into the movies. As we are leaving the theater the manager pushes his way up to me, pulls aside my jacket where the dog is hiding, and says in an accusatory voice, ‘So, how did your dog like the movie?’

‘ Oh pretty well,’ I answer. ‘But he liked the book better’.”

For a moment, the room is still. Then my nephew slaps his thigh and we all dissolve into laughter.

“And since we’re talking about dogs,” Dad says, taking his rightful place in center stage, between the television and the dresser. “Our next door neighbor has the most obnoxious dog.”

The jokes continue, each grander than the next.

Right after the one about the woman and the dry cleaners, my brother suddenly says, “I had this experience with my shoes the other day.” His voice is calm and plain. I smile, figuring the joke telling is over and we are moving into general conversation. Then I listen more carefully.

Dan tells a long and complex story– decidedly a bold mood in this charged atmosphere. My father has a patient expression on his face. My brother is articulate and calm, no histrionics, no mugging for the crowd. He may simply be telling an interesting story. I pray, “If he’s telling a joke, let him tell it well.” Dan stumbles over a word and I wring my hands. I feel like I am watching a tennis player’s first time on the court in an intense competition. I want my brother to win.

And then, Dan delivers the punch line. It’s smooth and elegant; sliding into us so unexpectedly, so easily that even Dad is caught off guard. Even Dad has that moment of hesitation and that flash of realization before he bursts into laughter and applause.

applauseThe applause dies down and my father segues right in. Dan folds his hands, content. I smile at him. I have read different accounts of coming of age. Yet here is one I have never seen before. My brother, emerging from years of quietly being in the audience, elegantly seizing the stage and then graciously giving it back. He has been heard. He has let us know, he is his father’s son.

“It’s stopped raining,” one of the boys says. “Let’s go out and play.” With a great roar, the boys take their swords and rush out to the nearby playground. The girls gather their purses and go to the quick shop for a diet drink. The cousins go off to do some shopping.

The room is quiet now, just my dad, my brother, my mom and I.

“I had no idea that you were such a great storyteller,” Dad says to my brother.

My brother shrugs. “After a while,” he says, “you catch on.”

dog in theater

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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Laughing During the Dementia Journey: A Map to Increased Health and Happiness

“I feel so much better after all this laughing,” our friend told us. “My brain fog has lifted. I feel myself again.” Our friend has been struggling with memory issues and a dimness in her thinking. We had a wonderful time practicing laughing exercises with her.  The more we laughed together, the easier and more spontaneous our laughter flowed. Laughing during the dementia journey left us all feeling healthier, happier, and more energized.

As I develop my own laughter practice, I wanted to know more from someone who’s really integrated laughing into her life. I asked Amy Kuth to share her insights.   Amy is a Health & Wellness Coach at Mayo Clinic’s Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center in Rochester, MN.  She has been practicing laughter for several years and has created an on-going Laughter Club for Mayo employees.  She recently completed a five-day teacher training course.  Here is my Q and A with Amy.

What benefits have you seen from your laughter yoga practice?

Laughter yoga helped me discover my playful side again after it had gotten buried under life pressures and self-criticism. Since I started leading laughter yoga and having a regular laughter practice I have become more confident, creative, and playful at home and in my workplace. Laughter brings me into the present moment, creates harmony in my mind/body/spirit, connects me to those that I am laughing with, and always puts me in a good mood!  I also set a daily intention to bring extra laughter into my specific work unit, outside of the laughter yoga sessions.  Doing this elevates our mood, encourages playfulness, increases creativity, and brings us closer together as a team.

How has your team, working in Employee Health at Mayo, benefitted from the extra laughter?   

In the weekly Mayo Clinic Laughter Club, we do a one word check-in at the end of our laughter yoga sessions. Words include: relaxed, energized, calm, happy, stress-free, , warm, peaceful, and grateful. These sessions are a great way for participants to take a break from work and other responsibilities, and to refresh and reset. The benefits of these sessions are then carried into the rest of their day.

What are some quick ways to add a splash of laughter into your day?

Plenty of haha’s a day keep the doctor away!

Here are a few ideas for adding a quick splash of laughter to your day:

  •           Surround yourself with positive people and things.
  •           Laugh in your car while you are driving to work.
  •           Affirm yourself with a smile and laughter while looking in the mirror.
  •           Smile at someone else and see what happens.
  •          Attend a laughter yoga club.
  •           Add humor to your day through media, fun activities, and social connections.
  •           Have a laughter buddy.
  •           Laugh into your cell phone, even if nobody is on the other line.
  •           Join a live laughter party on the phone.
  •           Set a timer for one-minute and just laugh until the time is up.

Why is adding laughter to our day important? 

In a typical day, laughter is usually sporadic and short lived. In order to gain the most benefit from laughter it needs to be long and deep, stimulating the diaphragm. Intentionally adding laughter to our day helps us receive these benefits. The benefits of laughter can be summarized simply by remembering the 5 H’s, which I learned in my teacher training.

Happy :  Laughter makes us happier by elevating our mood and attitude.  We do better in life with a improved mood and attitude.

Healthy:  Laughter improves our immune system and physical health. When we are healthier we can do more.

Harmony:  Laughter oxygenates and creates harmony in our body and brain.  What we do is more effective and efficient.

Heartfelt:  Laughter enriches our relationships and creates connection with others and with our self. Laughter is a universal language that breaks down barriers and causes judgment and self-criticism to fade.

Hopeful:  Laughter increases resilience. We bounce back better from adversity.

For more information about Laughter Yoga and about laughing during the dementia journey, please visit:  www.laughteryoga.org   or  http://robertrivest.com

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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