My parents liked to celebrate Valentine’s Day with dinner and dancing.  Years into my mom’s Alzheimer’s journey, my parents’ love hadn’t diminished, but my mom’s capacity for going out to dinner and dancing had drastically decreased. I saw how blue my father was—one more event he had to give up, one more change in the woman he loved—and I searched for alternatives that might cheer him up. Here are five ways to make Valentine’s Day special.

Look for a favorite thing. Seek one simple pleasure your loved one might enjoy. Mom loved potato soup and chocolate and fresh strawberries. These were part of our celebration.

Nurture yourself: include your own favorite thing. Bring yourself into the celebration and include something that makes you happy. I brought foods my father and I both liked as part of our little party.

Pick several ways to express your love.  Poetry, music, gifts, flowers, and photo albums—you can use any of these resources as a catalyst to talk about your feelings. Dad and I sang Mom old show tunes and love songs, music she really enjoyed. Mom adored Shakespeare; we had a couple of sonnets on hand.  She and Dad had once created a beautiful flower garden; Dad brought her a single red rose.

Take joy in the simple act of expressing yourself. Being with my mom was a chance to really practice the mythical “unconditional love.” Mom couldn’t tell me she loved me. During one Valentine’s Day celebration, she fell asleep while I was holding her hand and talking sweetly to her. But there was a comfort in expressing my love and I kept on talking.

Celebrate love in all its glorious guises. During their long marriage, my father had walked into a room millions of times and often, Mom had been busy and hadn’t particularly smiled or remarked. But with her dementia came a deep dependency on Dad. When Dad walked into a room, my mother’s face lit up. My father basked in that light. The sparkle in my mother’s eyes was the new, “I love you, darling.”  The light said everything my mother could no longer say.

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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We knew that Raymond Jessurun was an amazing leader, organizer, and dementia advocate from our previous work with him in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. But we had no idea what a powerhouse performer he was until recently, when we presented with him at the island’s White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation.
On our way to the event, Raymond told us, “We have a mixture of people coming together, people from all over the world, people of varying abilities. We want to invite joy into their lives. We want everyone to connect and have fun together.” 
Ron and I loved the idea and focused on music and laughter as a common pathway. When we arrived at the care center, which is managed by the White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation, the  community area was filled with light: the windows opened to the temperate breeze and lush outdoors. Indoors, in a large and cheerful room, people gathered in a semi-circle. Some had lived in Philipsburg all their lives. Others had relocated from other islands or countries, including Holland, Curaçao, St. Kitts, and Guyana.
Raymond opened our session by telling everyone, “I want you to teach Deborah and Ron something about yourselves and about our country.”
We all shared specific songs that reminded us of our families. Raymond jazzed us up by sliding into the center of the circle with a rousing a cappella rendition of  Come on Let’s Twist Again. After a few bars, people were dancing in their seats. We kept the movement going as we conducted When the Saints Come Marching In, first in a stately tempo, then fast. We talked about the times of the day we liked to sing. Several of the care staff said they liked to sing throughout the day. One woman enjoyed singing in the afternoons. Another sang a poignant favorite of hers, about how she longed for someone to hold at night. She received a heartfelt round of applause.
As part of our interaction about music and movement, we showed a video of Drum Safari engaging everyone in percussive activity during one of our KC Memory Cafes. We ended our session by giggling our way through some Laughter Yoga exercises, including drinking a delicious, no-cal, laughter milkshake.
As a final treat, everyone serenaded us with a traditional national song, O Sweet Saint Maarten Land. (Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41capjzf7iQ) The ending stanza captures a taste of this beautiful country, but fails to mention its amazing people: 
“Oh I love thy Paradise,
Nature beauty fairly nice,
Oh I love thy Paradise,
Nature beauty fairly nice.”

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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Listening to favorite songs. Singing. Conducting an imaginary orchestra. Looking at art. Cooking and baking. Laughing. These are just a few of the topics we discussed when presenting to care partners in St. Thomas.  

Recently we gathered with professional and family care partners, along with friends and advocates, to share ideas for staying connected through the dementia and care partners’ journey.

Everyone lit up as we all thought of favorite songs that carried positive memories. These “personal playlist” songs are the foundation of the internationally acclaimed Music & Memory program (https://musicandmemory.org) developed by Dan Cohen and beautifully documented in the movie Alive Inside. As we moved on to singing, one woman described how her mother still knew all the words to her favorite hymns. Another attendee, who had a daughter with special needs, described how singing allowed her daughter to find and keep her voice. Maestro David Dworkin would have relished the zest with which our group practiced his dynamic Conductorcize program. We sang the melody to When the Saints Come Marching In, and conducted away, raising our arms, our voices, and almost, the roof.

“What about cooking and baking?” one woman asked. “How can my mother continue her passion for those when she can no longer use the stove?” 

Ron and I both identified with that question, as our moms had been avid bakers. We talked about a variety of ways to stay safely engaged in creating food, including setting up a quiet table just outside the kitchen for making dishes together. We discussed the joys of measuring, blending, chopping, and stirring, while carrying on a companionable conversation. Making fruit and vegetable salads, snapping green beans, icing cupcakes, making cookies serve as a few delicious examples. There are so many ways we can adapt hobbies and add in creativity and the arts so all of us can live with meaning and purpose.  ###

Many thanks to Arleen Evans O’Reilly, Sandra Bradley, and their team for hosting us.                               And thanks to Sandra Bradley for taking the photos.

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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We were already in a holiday mood. A layer of sparkling snow blanketed Kansas City. Our generous neighbors at Cosentino’s Market in Brookside donated fresh-baked sugar cookies, colorful frostings, and cheerful sprinkles so our guests could decorate their own holiday cookies. Now we were ready for singing in the season with the Kansas City Symphony at the KC Memory Cafe. 
You’ve probably read about the intimate concerts of earlier times: stellar musicians gathered in a drawing room offering their talents to a small group of esteemed guests. As we settled into the Lower Level of the Plaza Library, a quartet of symphonic musicians assembled to play holiday music just for us. What a treat to nibble on the sweet decadence of sugar cookies while listening to angelic arrangements of holiday favorites. We swayed, we hummed, we sang along, and applauded vigorously as the magical music connected and transported us.
As the musicians launched into Jingle Bells, we heard an extra jingling. It was our own Santa Claus, bringing us his jolly “Ho, ho, ho’s” and a bag of Christmas cheer. We all sang, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” celebrated our musicians, and had our photos taken with Santa. We left humming and hopeful.#
Thanks to the KC Symphony for the amazing gift of music. Thanks to Cosentino’s Market for the delicious treats. And thanks to our attendees, our Dementia Friendly partners, and our amazing community volunteers. 
We hope you can join us for our 2020 dementia friendly series. Our Movies & Memories program meets the first Wednesday of the month at 10:30 in the Truman Forum of the Plaza Library. We enjoy live music, great movie clips, and delicious popcorn. 
Our KC Memory Cafe meets on the third Tuesday of each month in the lower level of the library. 
Our featured Cafe presenters will include the Kansas City Zoo, the Kansas City Ballet, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and the The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. All are welcome. 

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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 “Who prepared this delicious meal?” a friend asked during a holiday dinner.

I named my brother Dan, our head chef, first. Then I included the support team—myself, my mom, my daughters and nephews.

“Did I help?” Mom whispered as I passed her the mashed potatoes.

“You sure did,” I told her. ”You mashed the potatoes, put the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole, and mixed the fruit salad.”

“That’s good,” she said. “I like to help.”

Our desire to help and contribute to seasonal celebrations doesn’t end with a diagnosis of dementia. It’s lovely to linger in the kitchen together, preparing food for the holidays. It’s even lovelier when you can adapt and enjoy dementia inclusive holiday cooking so that people of varying abilities can participate.

Rebecca Katz, author of The Healthy Mind Cookbook, sees food as a great equalizer, something anyone can enjoy regardless of abilities. Fixing a delicacy for someone offers a tangible and delicious way to give back.

Here are six secrets of dementia Inclusive holiday cooking.

  • Leaf through a favorite family cookbook or recipe box and use the pictures and recipes as a catalyst for conversation. Ask open-ended questions, such as, ”What does that brownie recipe make you think of?” “What do you like about the holiday season?”
  • Chose a time of day when you’re both rested.
  • Create a comfortable kitchen environment, by playing familiar seasonal songs you can both hum or sing along to.
  • Reduce extraneous noise and distractions, such as a television in the background.
  • If you wish, take photos during the experience. That way, you can relive the adventure and share with family and friends.
  • Indulge in instant gratification, if possible, by sampling your work when the cooking is complete.
  • Even if the person living with dementia can’t help prepare food, he can still enjoy sitting in on the action and the conversation.

Whether you’re stirring a pot of orzo or dropping mint leaves into cool water, enjoy your time of creation and connection in the kitchen.

A longer version of this piece originally appeared on Joan Lunden’s excellent website:      Enjoy Dementia Inclusive Holiday Cooking.  Thanks to Sue Fitzsimmons, MS, ARNP, Judith Fertig, author of The Memory of Lemon, Kate Pierce, LMSW, Alzheimer’s Association Greater Michigan Chapter, and Rebecca Katz, author of The Healthy Mind Cookbook

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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First we get people’s toes tapping and hands clapping with live musical performances from some of Kansas City’s great musicians. Then KC Movies & Memories’ new focus on beloved movie musicals keeps our audience engaged and connected. This is a lively,  intergenerational experience that families can easily replicate. Please see our invitation below. 

Our November program delighted guests with an eclectic array of harp music, performed by Juli Sackman. We followed that with the story of the award-winning movie Oklahoma, punctuated by lively song and dance numbers. Here is the link to that experience. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56FbaPmCIbQ&feature=youtu.be 

In December, we were wowed by Indian Hills Middle School eighth grade choir. They entertained us with intricate renditions of holiday tunes. Then, Jim Poplau, manager of the Waldo Library, shared one of his favorite holiday films, White Christmas. Watching the 1954 trailer of the film, in Vista-Vision, reminded many of the rare childhood treat of attending the cinema. Jim regaled us with the complicated plot of the film and shared some of the beloved songs, including Sisters, Count Your Blessings and of course White Christmas, which we all sang along with. 

Here’s a link to that experience:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jN2p3vw3jyI&t=13s 

Invitation: If you’d like to add some musical movie offerings to your holiday gathering, simply email us at creativity@pobox.com and we’ll send you a PDF featuring YouTube song clips and scripts you can modify for your family.  These Movies-in-a Minute are courtesy of the Kansas City Public Library and The Creativity Connection.

Here’s to a lovely and meaningful holiday season.

 

 

 

 

 

What we look for in our dementia-friendly films.

  • Uplifting content
  • A straightforward narrative that’s easy to follow.
  • A subject matter that people might identify with
  • No violence and a minimum of startling or loud noises 
  • No subtitles or complicated foreign accents
  • Familiar or soothing music

 

Please join us for our Holiday Memory Cafe…

 

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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At first, the checklist of “can’t do’s” was daunting. No more playing the cutthroat card game Hearts. No more leisurely Scrabble sessions, with unabridged dictionary and bowl of fancy mixed nuts at the ready. No more hunkering in at the movie theater for a sparkling new release. With my mom’s dementia, so many of our traditional holiday activities simply wouldn’t work. So we had to think creatively and find ways to bring joy to the holidays with dementia friendly family  activities.

We created a photography/collaging/ scrapbooking project with a Thanksgiving themed story that starred all of us, The Little Kitchen that Could. I wrote up a simple story that featured a world famous chef, my brother, a series of sous chefs, the rest of the family, and my terrified pots and pans. Terrified because after a quiet life of heating up an occasional cup of water for tea, they were being forced into actual cooking. We all pasted faces on the pots and pans, posed for photos, and added ideas to the storyline. Once we developed the pictures, we sat around the dining room table and put the scrapbook together, while listening to my parent’s favorite old 40s melodies, and eating our traditional fancy mixed nuts.

This project gave our gatherings a new focus, helped us adapt treasured traditions and transition to new dementia

Adding “traditions” enriched our family gatherings.

Here are some additional ideas to cheer on your family.

  • Create a holiday play list to cheer you all on. If you’re prone to winter blues, include songs that brighten your spirits. If you don’t celebrate the holiday, use favorite winter or seasonal songs. Listen to these songs with your partner who has dementia and with family and friends.
  • Create a large print sing-along book for seasonal songfests. Include family favorites, personal seasonal tunes, and other tunes that are fun to sing or hum to.
  • Invite talented relatives or friends to share their musical or dance abilities.
  • If your partner likes animals, invite well behaved pets to come to your gatherings, offering a creature to nurture and observe and admire.
  • Create a family “giving back” project you can all be part of, so your partner is able to contribute to others. This can be as simple as icing cookies for a women’s shelter or making dog biscuits for an animal shelter.
  • Share favorite poems, by reading them call-and- response, one person reading, “T’was the night before Christmas,” and others repeating the line. Create your own family poem, as something to include in your holiday card or on your social media.
  • Add in laughter. Use the ha ha chorus, substituting “ha ha’s” for the words of favorite songs. You’ll find yourself chucking within seconds.
  • Arrange flowers together for a centerpiece, paying attention to colors, textures and aromas. Set the table together.
  • Play favorite music and talk about it, saying, “What does that song remind you of?”
  • Create a Taste Book, a scrapbook of favored recipes and memories around these foods. Plan to make or bake a recipe or two together.

Several esteemed experts and organizations helped me create this list of dementia friendly holiday activities. For more information about their, visit:

Natasha Goldstein-Levitas, MA, BC-DMT   natashagoldstein.com

Dan Cohen  Music and Memory

Gary Glazner  Alzheimer’s Poetry Project

Dr. Madan Kataria  Laughter Yoga

The team at the  Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

Nettie Harper and Kelly Gilligan  Inspired Memory Care, Inc.

Judith Fertig, novelist and cookbook author  Judith Fertig

 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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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There is something wonderfully connective about watching silent comedies by two of the world’s greats—Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton. Those black and white classics make you want to laugh, reminisce, and act a little silly yourself. And when there’s a pianist on hand, punctuating the wit and melodrama, the experience is even more compelling. Those silent films inspired peals of laughter at August’s KC Movies & Memories at the Plaza Library.

First, our guest musician, Kenny Harrison, engaged us in a lively sing-a-long. Then we watched One Week, a Buster Keaton masterpiece. Thomas Cooke is a retired professor of film. He and his wife Deborah spent hours previewing the iconic comedians, picking out three clips just for our program. For anyone who has ever tried to repair or build anything, this short film is a must. Next, Charlie Chaplain entertained us with Oceana Roll. “Charlie’s friends wanted him to do the roll dance every time he dined with them,” Thomas told us. Finally, we were on the edges of our seats with a clip from Modern Times. Note: Roller skate indoors at your own peril. 

Click here to enjoy some moments from this entertaining event.

In between films, we talked about the movies and how we related to them. One of our guests was a carpenter. Others had experiences with home repairs. We all marveled when Thomas told us that Keaton did all his own stunts. 

The movies stayed on our minds for several days. In fact, at dinner two nights later, we tried with Oceana fork dance with cucumbers.  (Where are the dinner rolls when you need them?) It was a lot harder than it looked. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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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Will we ever be too old to enjoy balloon animals? we’ve often wondered. After seeing Quixotic bring magic and music to KC Memory Cafe, our answer is a resounding, “No!” Along with 90 other guests, we were on the edge of our chairs, watching balloon maestro David Brenn transform simple balloons into pooches, butterflies, eyeglasses, and flowers. The crowd raised their hands, trying to catch the colorful flying balloons.  They laughed at the little dog that could instantly turn into a poodle and applauded at the balloon jetpack.

The music was mesmerizing, a delightful intertwining of violin and cello notes, accented by a graceful dancer and an enthralling singer. Everyone swayed to the sounds of an Irish jig, hummed along with Fly Me to the Moon and The Girl from Ipanema, and watched the balloons fly during Cheek to Cheek.

Beyond the fantastic talent of the performers was their warmth and caring. They created this low sensory, dementia friendly program and they were so happy to be sharing their gifts with us. And we were totally wowed!

Click here to experience the magic for yourself.

 

And visit Quixotic’s website to learn more about their upcoming public performances. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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 tables are scattered with pine cones, sycamore leaves, and decorative branches, along with bottles of glue, vivid construction paper, and pots of colorful paint. Our KC Memory Cafe begins with sharing memories of camping, scouting, or outdoor activities. Then a lively group of Girl Scouts leads us in song, reminding us to, “Make new friends, But keep the old, One is silver, And the other gold.” 

After our singalong, cafe guests experiment with the art supplies and natural objects. They dip pine cones into red paint and brush blue across crusty leaves. They paint a stick bright orange and wrap it with yarn. The Girl Scouts weave through the artists, pouring extra paint, distributing additional papers, and assisting when asked. The guests work, admire, chat, and laugh as these creative projects emerge. By the end of the cafe, the tables are covered with innovative art and people are smiling as they return home. 

Click here for a look at our cafe.

 

Want to introduce more nature into your lives?

“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,” says Garuth Chalfont PhD, American Society of Landscape Architects, and author of the. Dementia Green Care Handbook.       

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. 

Here are a few other ideas:

• Create observation spots in your living space so you can enjoy looking outdoors. Even watching the weather helps people feel engaged in the natural environment.

• Improve your view with interesting additions, such as bird feeders and birdhouses, bubbling fountains, wind chimes, wind spinners, outdoor sculpture, and various plants and herbs. 

• Add resilient plants to your home.

• Bring in natural objects to touch, identify, arrange, draw and craft with. 

• Visit garden centers, parks, playgrounds, and zoos for a rich natural experience.

• Increase your popularity by taking a dog with you on a walk, either your own or borrow your neighbor’s pup. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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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