Dementia Friendly

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.
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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.

santa

“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. jingle bells

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.  challah

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.

white christmas

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. holiday pic

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.”

tenderness

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.hands and heart

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.

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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A Stirring Tea Party Brings People Together

It took us an hour to prepare for our festive tea party and we all enjoyed every moment of it. Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN, Clinical Community Liaison, Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care, knows how to throw a party. She brought pastel table cloths, a charming complement of paisley-printed cups and plates, along with tiered cookie holders.  

For the ladies, she offered colorful fascinators (small hats you can clip into your hair) and bright boas. For the men, she had bow ties and top hats. She also brought the ingredients for tea time sandwiches and a variety of cheeses, veggies and meats. Kathi Michaels and Heidi Underwood from Leawood Gardens, and Lainey Berry, from the Law Office of Love & Blomquist, generously provided an array of baked treats, including legendary cookies from McClain’s Bakery and delectable lemon squares. 

Our guest speaker, Emilie Jackson from Emilie’s French Teas, shared information about the international history, social rituals, and health benefits that come with sipping a cup of tea. After her talk, everyone set to work creating cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, with the crusts cut off, of course.  We were able to smell several different teas and each person chose a favorite to savor. The food and drink were delicious but even better were the conversations. Each table got into discussions about tea, coffee, life, and more.  One guest enjoyed a tete a tete in French with Emilie, who is originally from France. 

The gathering was so much fun and so engaging, with all the aromas, tastes, and textures, that none of us wanted to leave.  It took us even longer to clean up after the stirring tea party, because we had to help eat the leftovers!

Click on this link for the inside story on our tea party: Memory Cafe, Tea Party

Here are a few of our favorite tea quotes:

Where there’s tea there’s hope. Arthur Wing Pinero

If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; If you are depressed, it will cheer you; If you are excited, it will calm you.  William Ewart Gladstone

I like the pause that tea allows. Waris Ahluwalia

A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water. Eleanor Roosevelt

Please join us for our next cafe when the great Nick Haines brings us the inside story on KC local news. We can’t wait!

Our team, ready for tea

Thanks to our sponsors:

The Kanas City Public Library

The Alzheimer’s Association

The Creativity Connection, Deborah Shouse and Ron Zoglin

Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care

Arts & Aging KC

KC FilmFest

Prairie Elder Care

The Villages of Jackson Creek Memory Care

Dennis and Carol McCurdy, Community Volunteers

 

Please email Deborah at myinfo@pobox.com if you need additional information.

And, we hope you can 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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76 Trombones Star in June’s Movies and Memories Event

In The Music Man, people flock to hear about the idea for a band. They imagine the shiny instruments, the colorful uniforms, and the scruffy boys in their small Iowa town transformed into revered members of a marching band.

In the Movies and Memories showing of this iconic film, life imitated art. During intermission, the Dirty Force Brass Band marched down the aisles of the Truman Forum, playing a zesty jazz number. People from the first floor of the library raced down the stairs, wanting to get closer to the music. Many of them stayed to watch the second half of the movie!

This was the longest movie we’ve shown at our series and it was a big success. What a treat to see it on the big screen and to enjoy a very young and adorable Ronny Howard as Winthrope, the agile and the charismatic Robert Preston wooing the melodic Shirley Jones, as Marian the Librarian. And is there anything better that seeing a movie partially set in a library while you’re sitting in a library.!

You can click on this link to get the flavor of the event:

Movies and Memories: The Music Man

“We loved the music,” one family told us.

“This is my daughter’s favorite musical,” a mom told us, smiling at her four-year-old daughter. 

“All this is free?” one of our guests said, relishing her popcorn and cookie.

Every two months, the Movies and Memories treats the Kansas City community to a dementia and family friend film, along with live music and delicious snacks, and a surprise at the end. Everyone who attended was excited to take home various kinds of colorful noise makers.   #

 

 

 

Please join us for our next dementia-friendly events:

Mark your calendars for these upcoming events:

JULY

Tu 17 – Memory Café: Tea Party

AUGUST

Tu 21 – Memory Café: Nick Haines from KCPT

Su 26 – Movies & Memories: Around the World / KC Boys Choir

SEPTEMBER

Tu 18 – Memory Café: Nelson-Atkins

OCTOBER

Tue 16 – Memory Café: Wornall House

Su 21 – Movies & Memories: Moana, uke players, hula dancers

NOVEMBER

* Wed 14 – Memory Café: Dog & Pony & Pig Show

DECEMBER

Su 9 – Movies & Memories: holiday movie shorts & cookie decorating

Tu 18 – Memory Café: Santa & Symphony

Thanks to all our teammates who help make these gatherings happen: 

The Kanas City Public Library

The Alzheimer’s Association

The Creativity Connection, Deborah Shouse and Ron Zoglin

Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care

Arts & Aging KC

KC FilmFest

Prairie Elder Care

The Villages of Jackson Creek Memory Care

Dennis and Carol McCurdy, Community Volunteers

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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Connected in the Land of Dementia: Easy Ideas and Free Events

The more research we read, the more people who are living with dementia we listen to, the more care partners we consult, the more we understand the power of keeping engaged, inspired, and connected in the land of dementia.
Along with Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN, Clinical Community Liaison from Kansas City Hospice, we’ll be sharing ideas for staying connected on Wednesday June 27, at 6:00 at Santa Marta.
If you’re interested, please join us for this free event.  We’re also including information on two free dementia-friendly gatherings happening in June in KC.
 
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 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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