Dementia-friendly activities

KC Memory Cafe Creates The Sounds of Music: A Visit from the Kansas City Symphony

If there’s anything more fun than a one-man band, it’s a one-woman orchestra. On May 15, Margaret Halloin graced the cafe with an astonishing array of instruments. She invoked our inner Itzhak when she introduced us to the versatility of the violin. One moment she used a series of chords to transport us to a hoedown; then she built the tension by creating the sounds of of a chase scene.  We were mellow with the cello and sliding cool with the trombone. We could all feel the beat as she tapped and shook a variety of percussion instruments. And then, she invited all of us to play
Instantly the room transformed from a quietly listening group of adults to a boisterous band of emerging musicians. One couple beat on a drum together. A woman tentatively held the violin. When Margaret helped her coax a sound of out it, she burst into delighted laughter. People tried the cello, the gong, the bongos, and the French horn. Even better than the sounds of music were the spurts of laughter and the lively conversations. After our chaotic impromptu concert, we gathered in small groups to talk about the music in our lives. One man had been a professional pianist. Several people had played in marching bands. Some had never touched an instrument. Until today. 
“Music is one thing that is universal and that brings us all together,” our cafe facilitator, Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN, told us.  
We all applauded. We had gone from a one-woman orchestra to a 50-person orchestra in a matter of an hour and we were feeling energized, happy, and filled with the sounds of music.
Here are some tips for creating your own instrumental experience:
  • Invite several musical kids/friends/relatives to come over, tell you about their instrument, and help you make a sound on it. 
  • Have fun playing imaginary instruments along with a big band or big orchestra music. 
  • Listen to favorite instrumentals and talk about any memories evoked.
  • Look at pictures of various instruments and share stories. Ask open-ended questions with no right or wrong answers, such as, “ What do you think about the piano?” “What are some of your favorite instruments?”
 Many thanks to the Kansas City Symphony for coming to play with us. 
A special thanks to Margaret Halloin and to Stephanie Brimhall, Education Manager. For more information about the Kansas City  Symphony, please visit: http://www.kcsymphony.org
For more information about the KC Memory Cafe, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/kcmemorycafe/

Please join us for our next events: 

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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KC Memory Cafe: Great Weather Information Inspires Great Conversations

Karli Ritter is a self-described “weather nerd.” When this Fox 4 meteorologist finished her lively talk at April’s KC Memory Cafe, we all had a bit of that “weather nerd” fever in us. We listened intently as Karli described her early morning routine, up at 4:30 a.m., studying the weather maps and data so she could formulate a forecast. She detailed the complexities of being an integral part of a five-hour show: she actually appears on TV 90 times during the Kansas City Fox morning show! Her talk reminded us that great weather information inspires great conversations.

Karli has a love for storms and we were delighted with our “tornado” experience, courtesy of the Kansas City Public Library staff. We used a special coupler to link one empty liter bottle with one half full with water. Then we shook and turned it upside down and voila! a little tunnel tornado formed in the water! Each person was fascinated by this experiment. That led us to a conversation about personal weather experiences. Our attendees had gone through hurricanes, earthquakes, dust storms, tornadoes, nor’easter’s and much more.

Our discussion continued on the way out, with guests describing the varied weather in the Kansas Flint Hills, rainbows they’d seen, family members who loved forecasting the weather, and long hot summers and long cold winters.  

To watch our weather wonders, click here.

Bringing the weather home.

To start a weather conversation in your own family or community, use music as a catalyst. Play songs such as: You Are My Sunshine, Stormy Weather, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, The Sunny Side of the Street, Let It Snow. After each song, ask an open-ended question. “What do you like about snow?” Or,” What seasons do you like most?” Or “Have you ever been in a really big storm?” Or,”What is your favorite kind of weather?”

You can also play iconic movie clips that feature weather, such as the joyous tap dancing scene in Singing in the Rain, or the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz. 

Dramatic weather photos and pictures can also trigger memories and comments. 

Thanks to our Cafe Team and thanks for those who visited.

Our next adventure: May 15, 10:30 to 12:00, Plaza Library

Music to Our Ears: The Kansas City Symphony Brings Us Note-worthy Instruments

You’ve heard them as part of the orchestra. Now you’ll be meeting selected instruments first-hand, as the Symphony’s Margaret Halloin joins us for this delightful interactive session. Enjoy refreshments and interesting conversations as we learn more about the sounds of music.

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: Laughter Triumphs Over Weather

It’s a Sunday morning in early April and we were excited about our Movies and Memories laughter program that afternoon at 2:00.

Then, the unthinkable happened. It started to snow, blanketing the daffodils and tulips with just enough flakes to make people want to cozy up at home. 

What did we do? Laugh, of course.

Laughter was the theme of our April program and we had excerpts from the inestimable Mr. Bean to anchor our program.

As Emily from the Kansas City Public Library, Plaza Branch,  made our popcorn and other library staff readied the technology, we accepted the fact that we might have only our intrepid volunteers in the audience. We all vowed to have a great time anyway.

Musician Richelle Basgall regaled us with songs and stories and our guests began to arrive.  Soon we had about 30 people who ignored the weather and were ready for fun. And fun we had. One of our volunteers brought us sumptuous cookies and small cakes. The aroma of fresh popcorn warmed us all and we laughed our way through a hilarious clip of Mr. Bean playing miniature golf. Then we passed out jokes, which we laughingly shared with each other. (What kind of sandwiches do astronauts eat: Launch meat! Why did the oil painting get sent to jail? It was framed!)

After watching Mr. Bean’s laundromat escapades, we had a laughter yoga session. We didn’t have to worry about traditional physical yoga postures—laughter yoga includes clapping, gestures, playfulness, and breathing. Everyone was a hearty laugher and we were all relaxed and smiling as we watched Mr. Bean’s horror as he tried to cope with raw oysters at a fancy restaurant.

Our ending surprise was a delicious way to take Mr. Bean home— gourmet jelly beans!!

Click here for a short video experience. 

Stay tuned for our next Movies and Memories event in August!

Want to have a movies and memories event right in your own home?

Here are a few tips:

If you’d like to make this an intergenerational experience, select a movie or clips you all might enjoy.

Choose a time of day when the person living with dementia will have good energy.

Get your favorite movie treats ready.

Create times to pause and chat about what you’ve seen. 

Print out simple jokes as a great way to spread the laughter.

If you wish, offer a surprise at the end, either something that reminds you to laugh or smile. And if you like sweets, our jelly beans were a huge hit! With all those flavors, you have a lot to talk about!

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 Power of Play in the Dementia Journey

Josh Rice, a theatre maker and teaching artist,  discovered the power of play in the dementia journey when he was still in graduate school.  As part of a school project, he partnered with a senior living community on a therapeutic puppetry and improv-based program for people living with dementia.

Together, Josh and the seniors designed and made puppets, and created performances that included songs, personal stories, and comedy. As he worked with the new artists, he noticed people were using their puppets to tell stories. They expressed emotions and they enjoyed the chance to play and have fun. Staff applauded the participants’ short-term memory gains and tactile improvements.

“Plus, we were creating exciting work and performing for people,” Josh says.

Puppetry

One afternoon, a woman who was having a difficult day burst into the puppetry classroom. She was non-verbal but acted out aggressively in a way that could have potentially agitated others. As Josh and the students were rehearsing, she walked in and before she could disrupt the class, Josh made eye contact with her, and gently touched her shoulder. He quietly talked to her and invited her to join in or sit and watch. Within minutes she calmed down.

“I put a puppet in her hand and all of a sudden her language came back. It was like a switch had been turned on,” Josh says.  This woman filled him with hope and inspired him. “I want people to understand that people who are living with dementia sometimes need us to be patient and keep giving them chances,” he says.

Being in the Moment

Josh knew the potential power of theatrical play and experimented with improv sessions for people living with dementia. The experiment worked.

“For improv, you have to listen and react,” Josh says.  “The past or future doesn’t matter; it’s all about the present moment.”

He created a safe, nurturing, and creative atmosphere, offering structured improvisations, and invited his new improv team to play.

“They loved it and it was a thrill to watch them discovering new things and coming up with creative dialogues,” Josh says. “Play is an integral part of our lives and most of us need more of it.”

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 Memorable Meeting: KC Memory Cafe

You know what it’s like, creating a program series for the first time. You try to think of everything, knowing that you’ve probably left something out. You hope plenty of people will attend and worry that no one will show up. The weather teases you, threatening snow or rain, thunder or wind. The “what if’s” line up, a mean group of scolders: “What if the elevator breaks? What if the speaker doesn’t show up? What if the snacks don’t arrive? What if the KC Memory Cafe doesn’t work!”

But, as most of us know, worry isn’t really that useful.

The debut of the KC Memory Cafe was beyond our highest expectations! On March 20, 2018, at 10:30 at the Plaza Library, the educators from the Kansas City Zoo showed up early, riding the elevator down to the lower level with their exotic offerings. The weather was perfect and a lovely group of 40 plus care partners and people living with dementia joined us, delighting in the delicious snacks.  And they were even more delighted with the program, all of us laughing at the antics of the cockatoo, leaning forward to see the Vietnamese Tree Frog cozied in his glass aquarium, and petting the chinchilla, with a fluff of fur that felt like a cloud.

“I love this animal,” one attendee said, smiling at the blue tongued skink. 

“This is the softest fur I’ve ever experienced,” said another, reveling in the chinchilla. 

“That bird is so funny,” said another, laughing as the cockatoo bounced up and down, “dancing.” 

After learning about the animals, we talked about our own pet memories. It was a wonderful morning and we can’t wait for our next Memory Cafe, on April 17, 2018. 

Click here so you can experience the fun of the Cafe.

https://drive.google.com/open? id= 1mU8Iw83lGbhw6FeAVJ3VQ8xhe75qt YYm

Want to join us on April 17 for our next Cafe?                        Here’s the scoop!

Weather Wonders: The Inside Story

Metereologist Karli Ritter Reveals Weather Mysteries 10:30 am on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. Plaza Library Lower Level.   Join us for the KC Memory Cafe, a free event dedicated to creating educational and social experiences for people who are living with memory loss and for their care partners. 

Our Team — Standing: Emily Cox, April Roy, Carol and Dennis McCurdy. Sitting: Ron Zoglin and Deborah Shouse, Jennifer Walker, Mandy Shoemaker

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 in the Land of Vietnam

“We are here to see Dr. Nguyen Thanh Binh, head of the Department of Neuroloy and Alzheimer Diseaese,” I tell the guard at the National Geriatric Hospital of Vietnam in Hanoi, showing him my folded paper with her name printed on it.

He grins, then points to a full size sheet of paper in the security booth’s window with our names printed on it. We follow him into the hospital and up a flight of stairs. After a short wait, Dr. Binh warmly welcomes us into her office. She has a table ready with chairs and tells us she has invited others from her department to talk to us as well. Another Dr. Nguyen Thanh Binh arrives. Her Phd thesis was on easing the burden for family caregivers.  Dr.  Ngan Thi Hong Anh, doctor of rehabilitation, joins us. She seeks non-medical solutions for improving quality of life.  Nguyen Ngoc Anh, RN, completes our group. She works daily, communicating with and caring for  people who are living with dementia.

For two years. Dr. Binh and her team have been running a pilot study, inviting people who are living with dementia to attend a three day a week program that focuses on engaging socially, physically, emotionally, and intellectually.  They use music therapy techniques, they bake traditional cakes together, and they enjoy various arts and crafts projects. All these therapies offer physical and occupational therapies, as well as vital social interactions. The project has been a huge success, with both family caregivers and people living with dementia enjoying the results. Besides giving the caregivers a much needed respite, families report improved quality of life and and increased abilities in the activities of daily living.

“Symptoms improve,” Dr. Binh reports. “Patients want to keep attending and families have their burdens eased.”

Dr. Binh and her team have extended the program.

Often people come to the hospital, seeking answers to issues related to memory loss.  Many elders live at home with extended families, and their children and grandchildren are frequently confounded by their cognitive impairments and other symptoms of dementia. Dr. Binh and her associates offer education, information, and comfort. They describe the disease and try to help families move beyond their initial feelings of hopelessness. They encourage families to accept and embrace their elder and support him or her in living a meaningful life.

We left our meeting with these remarkable women feeling inspired. They are doing important work and making a difference for the people of Hanoi and Vietnam.

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—An Oscar-Winning Experience

“Thank goodness for this program,” one of our Movie and Memories’ guests told us. “There are so few places Mom and I can enjoy going together these days.”

“Thanks for this cookie. I could really use a little nurturing today,” another said.

“My goodness, I was delighted to learn about this program,” another said.

“What a treat, to have these films and these treats for free,” a couple told us.

Everyone arrived ready for movie magic. One of our volunteers from the Alzheimer’s Association brought a generous tray of cookies and brownies to share with everyone.

“How will we ever eat all those cookies?” I wondered initially. Well, it turns out, we had a large and wonderful group of sweet sweet-lovers, who thoroughly enjoyed the films and the feast.

Our three Oscar-nominated shorts met with great approval and included Glas, Joe’s Violin, and Room on a Broom.  When Michelle Niedens, Director of Education and Programs at the Heart of America Alzheimer’s Association, asked us all, “Which short would you have voted for?” it was between the inspiring documentary of a Holocaust survivor giving his beloved violin to a blossoming music student and the beautifully inclusive and tender animated Room on a Broom.

Save Sunday April 8 at 2:00 for our next Movies and Memories event and join us for this meaningful dementia and family friendly film series. To make sure you know about the series, sign up for the library’s newsletter at http://www.kclibrary.org/newsletter/special-events-signup  We’ll be part of the Kansas City Film Festival—visit Kansas City FilmFest to learn more about their line up. Want to help us spread the word or have an idea for a great movie to show? Just email Deborah at myinfo@pobox.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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Hooked on Sharing Ideas and Stories that Connect

One of the many things we love about sharing ideas and stories that connect people during the dementia journey—we never know the brilliant, witty, and amazing things our participants will say!

Let me set the scene:

It’s Thursday evening and Ron and I are presenting a program in a church basement. Our audience is a group of dedicated parishioners who serve in the Stephen Ministry, which offers help, hope, and healing. Several are reaching out to people who are living with dementia and want to learn tips for having enriching visits. As we discuss ways to assist people in adapting hobbies and activities, I invite the group to get into dyads and share a favorite hobby and some of the things they enjoy about it.

This is a lively bunch of people and they instantly start talking.Two women on the front row laugh uproariously throughout the exercise. Of course, I am curious. When the exercise is over, I ask, “What are some favorite hobbies?” One of the laughing women points to the other and says, “Would you believe, the first thing out of her mouth? She said, ‘I’m a hooker.’”

There was a bit of a nervous silence.

“A rug hooker,” the woman explains, grinning.

Everyone laughs.

“I love to make hooked rugs and share with them people,” she says.

A man leans forward and looks right at her. “I’m a hooker too,” he says and pauses for dramatic effect. “I like to hook fish. Fishing relaxes me.”

The room lights up with generous laughter. Then we continue the practical matter of adapting hobbies.

So, hopefully you’re now “hooked” on this subject. Here are a few practical tips for adapting hobbies for and with those who are living with dementia.

  • Discuss which hobbies are most important.
  • List the components of each and learn which parts the       person most enjoys.
  • Adapt the experience as needed to fit changing abilities and   interests.

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 making the squares or the finished product? Is it the companionship with other quilters?

Or is it 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 and enrich their lives.

Many people who live with dementia deal with social isolation. A big thank you to Nora Ellen Richard and those who are reaching out to stay connected.

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 Winning Combination: Children, Exercise, and Music

An orderly group of five-year-olds walk into the dining room at Vernon Manor in Viroqua, Wisconsin.  The residents are waiting for them. Each child goes up to an elder and introduces him or her self.  Then Ingrid Constalie, AD-BC, CDP, Board Certified Activity Director and Certified Dementia Practitioner, talks to the assemblage about the importance of staying fit. The residents nod sagely: many of them are in their eighties and nineties and they exercise every day. But the days that the kindergartners join them are the best, a winning combination or children, exercise, and music.

The residents love teaching the kids the alphabetic movements to the iconic YMCA song. And the kids are a burst of giggles and wiggles as they fold their arms into wings, strut around, and teach everyone The Chicken Dance.

Ingrid’s focus is creating moments of joy, engagement, and connection.

Her intergenerational activities spark the residents and reduce the stigmas of aging and dementia by educating and informing local children, teens, their teachers, and other members of the community.

“This dancing and exercise exchange is simple, energizing, and very successful,” Ingrid says.

Sing-O at Bingo

Music Bingo offers middle schoolers a chance to work with Ingrid’s elders.

“This is about creating a good experience for your partners,” Ingrid coaches the children in advance. “You are their connection to the world.”

Ingrid plays an opening melody, using songs such as “Happy Trails,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and “Singing In the Rain.”  Those who know the title shout it out. Often, partners confer with each other. The children help locate the song title on the bingo card and place a poker chip on each answer.  Even people living with advanced dementia enjoy listening to music and being around the children.

Most of the time, the school children are chatty and at ease. But one girl was scared coming into the care community.

“I paired her with Helen, a woman deep into dementia,” Ingrid says. “Within minute, Helen had her arm around the girl and they were both laughing.”

Even children who act up at school are wonderfully behaved during the Bingo experience.

Creating Comparisons and Compassion

Recently, Ingrid orchestrated a project with a high school English class. They interviewed residents and did a comparison and a contrast. For example: “While Clara is getting out of bed with the assistance of staff, I am getting ready for school. While she wheels herself down a long hallway to a dining room, I am eating toast with my sister.”

The teenage journalists asked simple questions, like “What is your morning like?” “How do you spend your afternoon?” “How do you like to dress?”

The students wrote up the results and made booklets. One family was so inspired by the insights in the booklet, they later read parts of it at the woman’s funeral.

Ingrid’s intergenerational connections explore understanding, create empathy, and help create exciting new relationships.

 

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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My Mom’s New Holiday Tradition: Smiling

**

We roll into the memory care facility’s 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 in.

“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 baked, then smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar . 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 song. She let the holiday rush by her, like a large train, whooshing past and leaving her behind.

Now, I am singing Christmas carols to my Mom for the first time and she is smiling. 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, 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 scarlet nose, Mom laughs, her face a miracle in pure enjoyment. I laugh too, so delighted to see Mom engaged and absorbed.

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.Here’s to a meaningful and fun holiday season.

I look forward to connecting with you when I resume blogging in early January.

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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