Inspiration

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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They Yearned for Freedom

I often think of my grandparents, each of whom bravely made his and her way to America. They sought opportunity and they yearned for freedom. Freedom to be safe from persecution, freedom to practice their religion, freedom from stigma,  freedom to be their own true selves. The same things we all want. Here’s to living our dreams and to helping others live their dreams.

When I was growing up, in the 1950s, the Fourth of July was a true day of freedom. We had a huge family picnic at our relative’s house. The festivities included a swimming pool and was held in a neighborhood without fences, which meant we kids could run breathlessly through the yards, chasing each other, playing tag, baseball and hide ‘n seek.

But first, we politely greeted our relatives. Then our aunt said, “How about a drink?” to my parents. And “Kids, there’s sodas in the cooler.” Dad wanted Scotch on the rocks and Mom asked for gin and vermouth. Mom joined the women who were arranging the food on long picnic tables and Dad hung out with the men, who were grilling burgers and dogs.

That’s when the freedom began. My younger brother Dan and I, normally allowed to drink only juice and milk, eagerly surveyed the array of icy sodas and we both chose Grape Nehi.

Quickly we were swept into a game of tag. Some of the kids were already wet from swimming and others still wore shorts. Underneath our clothes, Dan and I had on our bathing suits and were ready to leap into the pool and get immersed in a game of Marco Polo.

The adults were busy with drinks and conversations and no one admonished us to be quieter, slower, or more polite. We were a band of glowing energy, sweating with the joy of freedom and racing to escape being IT. We were a burst of independence, throwing off our shorts and t-shirts and cannonballing into the pool, shrieking, splashing, and laughing.

After several hours, the women beckoned us over. We dropped onto the lawn and ate ravenously off drooping white paper plates loaded with baked beans, hot dogs, corn, cole slaw, and potato chips. Then we spit watermelon seeds at each other. Finally, we sated ourselves with rich chocolate cake.

By then, the fireflies flickered and glowed. My uncle handed out sparklers without even warning us to be careful. Those dangerous sulphury sparks thrilled us. We raced about, a sparkler in each hand, writing our names on the sky, streaking across the dewy grass, leaving a trail of smoldering light behind us.

At the end of the evening, my uncle set up the fireworks. We sat on blankets, this time with our families. We were smudged, sweaty, and stained with watermelon juice and dirt. I leaned against Mom and my brother snuggled next to Dad. As the fireworks spurted up into the sky, we pressed our hands against our ears, the noise and brilliant layers of light bursting around us.

“God bless America,” my father said.

“America,” the adults echoed, their voices hushed and reverent.

Only later, when I was older, did I realize the significance of the holiday: my relatives were all first generation Americans—and on that day, among others, they were grateful their parents had escaped the tyranny and religious persecution of Poland, Russia, and Hungary and had come to this welcoming land.

But that night, I was simply worn out from my own childlike version of independence. Dan and I leaned against our parents, fighting our tiredness, and let the sounds of freedom ring us to sleep.

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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Redefining Dementia and Focusing on Wellbeing

Several months ago, I was delighted to write an article highlighting some of the American leaders in dementia care. I will be occasionally spotlighting luminaries from that article who are redefining dementia and focusing on wellbeing.

A version of this piece appeared in Signpost Journal: Journal of Dementia and Mental Health of Older People. This excellent journal from Wales, UK, offers a variety of informational and inspirational articles. I am honored to be a contributor.

Redefining Dementia and Focusing on Wellbeing

Late every afternoon, Roger paces the corridors, pausing at the locked door, fiddling with the keypad, sometimes even setting off the alarm before he resumes his pacing. Instead of labeling Roger’s behavior as “sun downing,” Allen Power, MD, teaches practitioners to ask themselves: Which vital element of health and happiness is missing from Roger’s life: identify, connectedness, security, autonomy, meaning, growth, and joy. By doing this, Dr. Power is redefining dementia and focusing on wellbeing.

Dr. Power is a geriatrician and educator on transformational models of care, with a focus on people living with changing cognitive abilities.  He is also the author of two groundbreaking books, Dementia Beyond Drugs and Dementia Beyond Disease: Enhancing Well-Being.

He defines dementia as, “A shift in the way people experience the world around them.”

“I believe that most of people’s on-going distress is due to the erosion of one or more aspects of well-being, from the care environment, and/or the person’s cognitive changes. Imagine these domains of wellbeing as seven glasses being emptied. Start filling the glasses and notice the results.”

water glass

As Dr. Power trains and consults with memory care communities around the world, he sees meaningful results from this compassionate approach. Suddenly, Mary is not constantly calling out night and day. Bill is not hitting the aides when they take him to the shower. Roger is not setting off the alarm or trying to open the exit door.

“There’s no sure answer,” Dr. Power says. “You need to understand the individual and experiment until you reach the root of the problem. People may be looking for connectedness. They may feel anxious and insecure. They may be bored.”

If someone is repeatedly trying to leave the building, Dr. Power might ask: Are they feeling insecure? Are they feeling lonely and trying to reach someone they love? Are they yearning to connect with an important part of their identity, such as a beloved garden, horse, dog, or pick up truck?

Working toward an Inclusive Future

Dr. Power uses a strength-based approach to work on enhancing wellbeing. He encourages developing “brain ramps,” cognitive supports that help people move through the day in meaningful ways.

“With this positive approach, I can now look at a challenging scenario and offer insights,” Dr. Power says.

Beyond the care of the individual, Dr. Power believes in examining ingrained rituals and routines of institutionalized care, including all meals at a certain hour, with an aim of moving to a more individualized and meaningful mode of care.

“We can make mundane activities such as bathing or getting ready for bed more meaningful and relational than we normally do in long-term care,” he suggests.

“We need to support people instead of dehumanizing them,” he says. “We need to be inclusive and try harder to understand them.”

Dr. Power believes integration into society is a basic civil right.

“Imagine if people who lived with cancer, arthritis, or diabetes could only live with others who shared their medical condition. There’s a problem with seeing the disease instead of the people,” he says.

Dr. Power is contributing to a future where all communities are dementia inclusive and where dementia is just viewed as another way that people see the world.

For more about Allen Power, MD, internationally known geriatrician, educator, and author , please visit:

Website:  http://www.alpower.net

Dr. Power is participating in Dementia Action Alliance’s  Reimagine Life with Dementia Conference, June 25-27.

http://daanow.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/DAA-Conference_042817.pdf 

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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Art as a Creativity Catalyst: Featuring Grace and Spencer Townley-Lott

How do we keep our sense of connection and creativity through the caregiving journey? That was a question I often asked myself. I wanted to share this story of an extraordinary couple– artist, dementia advocate, and social worker Grace Townley-Lott and her husband, puppeteer, actor, and playwright, Spencer Townley-Lott. Both use art as a creativity catalyst in their work and throughout their lives.

Their elders inspired them. Grace and Spencer were teenagers when her grandmother and his great-grandmotherwere going through a dementia journey. The experience was difficult and impactful.  

            Grace became a social worker, specializing in older adults and learning how to communicate with people who were living with dementia, often through art.

            “It’s incredible how the arts open people up,” Grace says. “Someone who hasn’t painted in 20 years picks up a brush and creates something beautiful.  Someone who hasn’t spoken in ages delivers a zinger of a one-liner. Every day, I see how creative people are and the connections that are still possible.”

            As Grace unfurled her work experiences, Spencer gained a new understanding of his great-grandmother’s last years. He used those insights to create a critically acclaimed play, Blossom. This play, which utilizes puppets, was funded by a Jim Henson Foundation Grant. It focuses on James Blossom, a retired painter who is living with dementia and his family’s changing relationships.

Caregivers often wonder: “How do we keep creativity alive?” Grace and Spencer were kind enough to share some ideas.

Engaging in New Endeavors: Grace

            Try to be in the moment, despite your list of tasks. Respond to and validate emotions. Be willing to go with the flow so you can allow creative sparks.

Pay attention to facial expressions as you invite your loved one to engage. If you start dancing, do their eyes light up and do they laugh? If you offer watercolors and cue your partner to touch the brush to wet paper, does he respond with joy when the color blooms on the page?  If you’re having a hard time getting your partner to take a shower, croon a song and waltz with him into the shower. If it doesn’t work, that’s okay, too! But if it does work, it’s a lovely and practical way to connect, create, and take care of physical needs as well.

Sometimes it takes reframing the situation to view the possibilities. An outside person or idea can often expand your thinking.

Creativity Tips for the Care Partner: Spencer

Sometimes, physical actions can help release tension to allow for more creative thinking. Deep breaths and stretching can help you loosen up at first. In the theater world, we start every rehearsal with a physical game or action to help us get focused and leave our stress at the door. Try wiggling and shaking your feet and hands, giving yourself a brief facial massage, stretching as tall as you can, and twisting gently left and right. You’re getting the blood flowing, leaving the worried part of you in the hallway, and getting ready to create.

Allow room for surprises. Try to set the tone by modeling joy and openness. Be willing to try again.

Connecting through Art: Grace

I love viewing art with people who have dementia.  Art is so subjective, so there’s no wrong answer to the question, “What do you see?” You can take that first question and lead it along into a fascinating conversation, one question at a time, building a fulfilling conversation with an individual or a group.

In these art viewings, a discussion about a painting can tap into emotions that would otherwise be left undiscussed, or it could lead into a beautiful conversation about the person’s childhood, for example. You never know where the conversation will lead! This creates a failure-free situation where a person with dementia can excel and their answers are valued.

Connecting through Puppets: Spencer

Puppets offer a level of separation for the care partner.  For people living with dementia, a puppet’s cues may be simpler to decode, dramatically expressing joy or sorrow.  The puppet can place a hand on a shoulder and offer many opportunities for sensory engagement.

Puppets can also encourage intergenerational play, creating connections between family members who may be unsure who to communicate with their loved one with dementia.

Keeping Your Creative Flow: Spencer and Grace

Flowing creativity

“Creativity is inherent in all of us,” Spencer says. “It’s a muscle you can strengthen. Be patient with yourself.  The first day, you can only do one push-up.  The second day, you can accomplish two or three. That’s what creativity and artistry feels like. Start small. You are laying the foundation.  And it gets easier.”

“Be present and be ready for anything,” Grace says. “By asking your loved ones for advice, truly listening to them, and just being with them, you can form beautiful interactions throughout life.”

To learn more about Spencer, visit

www.misterlott.com

To learn more about Grace, visit

gracetownley.com and theartfuloven.com

Grace is the Director of Truly Inspired Outreach and Education for True Care Home Health.

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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An Insider’s Look at True Love: Charlie and Elizabeth’s Story

For years, I interviewed fascinating couples every week for a column in the Kansas City Star. Talking to people who are in love is always inspiring; often couples have to overcome enormous obstacles to bring their relationship into reality. One of my favorite stories stars two friends whose love and cosmic connection shines out from their faces and rings out with their words. Here is an short version of their beautiful story, an insider’s look at true love.

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The coffee date was going better than Charlie, age 60, could have ever imagined. Just a month earlier, his best friend had burst into Charlie’s dark apartment and roused Charlie from his lethargy, saying, “You need to open up these windows and let some light in. You should start dating.”

“Who would go out with a guy who has Early Onset Alzheimer’s?” Charlie asked his friend.

“Maybe you should find out,” his friend replied.

So Charlie Miller pried himself out of his depression and joined eHarmony. And this coffee date with Elizabeth Hack was the result.

 

Elizabeth, age 55, was brilliant, interesting, energetic, curious, and shared many of Charlie’s interests. When she asked Charlie what he liked to do, he mentioned listening to music, attending theater, visiting with friends and volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Elizabeth knew nothing about Alzheimer’s. She asked, “Does someone close to you have the disease?”

“Yes,” Charlie answered. He wanted to say more but the words stuck in his throat. He had never envisioned this casual meeting could possibly turn into a romance. Yet he was already comfortable with Elizabeth and felt their relationship was meant to be.

Over the weeks, they continued seeing each other, meeting at concerts, going to plays, and exploring new restaurants. As their friendship deepened. Charlie knew he had to share his diagnosis with Elizabeth and he worried she wouldn’t be able to accept it.

But before he had a chance to broach the subject, Elizabeth, wanting to learn more about Alzheimer’s and about Charlie’s interests, visited the local Alzheimer’s Association website and noticed a picture of Charlie, as a volunteer and a person who has Alzheimer’s. She was shocked, dismayed, and confused. But she was also in love with Charlie; his diagnosis did not diminish her deep feelings for him.

 

Charlie suggested she meet with his social worker at the Association to learn more about the disease. Elizabeth did that and though the information was daunting, her connection with Charlie was strong and true; she, too, felt they were destined to be together.

They began traveling and made plans to move in together.  In a vineyard restaurant in Napa Valley, Charlie proposed and Elizabeth said Yes. Today, they are living happily, grateful they have found each other

“None of us know what will happen next,” Elizabeth says. “Just the other night, we were at a dinner party. One friend was just released from the hospital after heart surgery, and another friend was facing a hip replacement. I felt concerned for my friends and I felt so lucky that Charlie and I were happy and together. We are dedicated to living with joy and curiosity in the present moment.”   

 

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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One-minute Tips to Boost Your Happiness

For three weeks, a small pile of books huddled on the floor of my bedroom, next to the bureau. Every time I saw those books, I thought, “I should put them away.” But I walked past them, too busy. Until I read Amy Newmark’s new book, Simply Happy. One of her tips challenged me. “What can you do in one minute?” I took the “One-Minute Tips to Boost Your Happiness” challenge. I swooped into the bedroom, scooped up the tomes, and put them in the bookcase. Then I looked at the blank carpet and smiled. That quick action filled me with joy.pile-of-books

Amy Newmark left her high-powered career as a Wall Street analyst to take over the Chicken Soup series. After years of immersing herself in true stories of miracles, lessons learned, and hopes fulfilled, she wrote her own book, Simply Happy. I was so inspired by Amy’s insights, I asked her to offer a few ideas for busy care partners. Here are some of her “One-Minute Tips to Boost Your Happiness.”

Amy’s Insights for Care Partners

Counting Blessings Adds Up to Happiness

“The gateway to happiness is counting your blessings,” Amy says. “If you’re not grateful for what is in your life, how can you be happy?”

Scientific studies have proven that people who are actively grateful are happier, healthier, and more productive. Plus, they get along better with family members, colleagues, and others.

“You can easily learn gratitude,” Amy says.

To start, each day jot down three things for which you’re grateful. Strive for three different ideas each day. At the end of the month, you’ll have documented nearly a hundred blessings.

“Writing and speaking your gratefulness changes your perception,” Amy says. “You start looking for good things during the day. You can share your blessings with your partner and encourage him to consider his own.”

Some people drop the blessings into a box, and then read them at the end of the day or the end of the month.

Smiling Serves You

Smile even when you don’t feel like it. Often, when you smile, people smile back. This boosts everyone’s spirits and energy. If they don’t give you a grin, it doesn’t hurt you.

“Your smile will change the way people react to you,” Amy says.

Zipping from Zero to 60 Brings Joy

unnamedSet a timer for 60 seconds and zip through a task you’ve been putting off. File the insurance policy that sprawls across the dining room table. Unload the dishwasher. Take your vitamins.

“Doing even one of those tasks every day will lighten your spirits,” Amy says.

Dropping Perfection and Embracing Your Own Abilities

Abandon your pursuit of perfection and strive for your own version of excellence.

“When you try to be perfect, you can’t get a lot done,” Amy says. “For most of us, it’s better to do five things at 90 percent than one thing at 100 percent.”

I love Amy’s final piece of wisdom:

“Treat yourself nicely,” she says. “Use the fragrant soap you save for guests. Indulge in a rich bit of good chocolate or a fresh crisp apple. Put the good sheets you save for company on your own bed.

Give yourself a tiny pleasure every day.”

For more happiness boosts, read Simply Happy.chicken-soup-for-the-soul-simply-happy-9781611599497_hr

Visit Amy’s website at www.amynewmark.com or www.chickensoup.com

Extra tip from Deborah: If you like to write, consider submitting one of your own life stories to a Chicken Soup book. I’ve shared my stories in dozens of their books and it’s such a meaningful experience. Go to www.chickensoup.com, scroll down to the bottom, and click on “Submit Your Story” to learn how.

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 the Playlist

img_3138-1Ron and I were already champions of Dan Cohen’s world-changing Music & Memory program, which is featured in Connecting in the Land of Dementia, but we had never met Dan in person. The moment we learned we were going to New York City, we reached out to Dan and he agreed to meet with us.

Dan is a prime example of one collaborative person making a difference for thousands. Eighteen states have already funded Music & Memory rollouts as a best practice approach for care facilities to improve quality of life for persons with dementia. In Toronto, everyone who is diagnosed with dementia receives a free iPod so they can enjoy personalized music. Dan and his team have trained 5000 dementia care managers, who understand how effective this program is. He is currently collaborating with hospitals, hospice, and prisons, as well as long term care communities.

Here is some of the wisdom he shared with us.

“We all need to create our personal play lists now,” Dan says. “Music makes any healthcare encounter better.  Whether you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, going into the hospital, attending rehab, or moving into a care community, you’ll have a more comfortable experience when you are able to listen to favorite songs.”

Click here to listen to Dan Cohen.

Click here to learn more about the Music and Memory program.

Read more about Dan’s programs in Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together.  Order your copy from your favorite independent or online bookstore.

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At Long Last: A Page-Turning Love Story

2005_3_comptxMy hands trembled as I reached out my arms. For three long years I’d been working toward this meeting and yearning for this moment. Now, it was finally here. She was more beautiful than I had imagined, with a pleasing weight, just right for holding, just right for spending long hours with. From a glance, her personality seemed strong and purposeful and yet her warm, colorful exterior told me she would be easy to read.  As she gradually opened up to me, I felt her power, her accessibility, her willingness to share ideas and wisdom. She felt great; she looked great; and she was brimming with exciting new ideas. Three long years and finally, she was in my arms. I hugged her tightly. At last I was holding my new book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together

What makes this book unique? It’s the amazing people who contributed to it. During the writing process, I interviewed dozens of innovators across the globe, gathering ideas that engage the creative spirit so you can continue to experience meaningful moments throughout the dementia journey. These luminaries inspired me every step of the way and I am eager to share their ideas with you.

This book is brimming with easy projects using music, art, movies, cooking, gardening, and more. Here are some of the benefits you can look forward to when you do these activities together: Increased energy and socialization, an improved sense of purpose, reduced anxiety, and chances to express yourselves in new and meaningful ways.

Here’s even more good news about the ideas in this book. They’re adaptable for all ages and abilities, and you don’t need to have any special talents. Simply incorporate them into your daily routine and you’ll enrich your time together.

Marc Wortmann, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Disease International, called the book “A ‘must read’ for every care partner because it really helps you to look at things differently!”

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If you’re in the Kansas City area, please join us for the book launch on Sunday afternoon, October 9th, at 1:30 for a reception in the Truman Forum at the Plaza Library. The free presentation will begin at 2:00  This lively program, filled with ideas, stories, and songs,  features myself and my partner Ron Zoglin, musical luminaries Rod Fleeman and Cynthia Schroer, and guest speaker Michelle Niedens from the Heart of America Chapter, Alzheimer’s Association.

RSVP 816-701-3407 

For those of you in the Washington DC area, please join us at the free Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Caregiver’s Conference on Thursday September 29. We’ll be presenting there, along with other experts in the field. Click here to register.

We recently heard from several readers, saying, “This book is going to help so many people. I’m recommending it to my friends and colleagues.”

That’s what this is all about: enriching people’s lives through meaningful engagement.

It’s a challenge, bringing a new book into the world and we welcome your ideas and help in spreading the word about the book and the event.

You can order a copy now from Rainy Day Books, our book-seller for the event, or online.

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Here is some advanced praise:

“A thoughtful and positive guide to the very thing I find myself constantly advocating to doctors, caregivers, and family members—social stimulation and creative arts will limit the need for psychiatric medication and improve the quality of life for those with dementia more than anything else.”   Doug Wornell, MD, Life Solutions Group for Geriatric and Neurological Psychiatry

“Buy this book, read it, highlight what inspires you. As you make notes and bend pages to personalize this guide, you are creating a family treasure.” Carol Bradley Burdock, Founder of Minding Our Elders

“Deborah Shouse provides a great public service by shining light on the numerous creative activities that can meaningfully engage the minds and spirits of persons living with dementia. From personalized music to storytelling, Shouse makes it easy for caregivers to understand the various options they have to help their loved ones navigate through their everyday lives.”  Dan Cohen, MSW  Founding Executive Director, MUSIC & MEMORYsm

 

Tips from a Parisian Artist

IMG_2060There’s something magical about visiting an artist in his studio. Especially if that studio is in Paris.  We were honored to meet Patrick Laurin, artist and art therapist, on a recent trip to France.

In the beginning, Patrick Laurin’s work with people who were living with dementia went slowly. When he first visited the care home and invited people to join him for painting, he heard various reasons the idea wouldn’t work.                                                                                                                                     “I can’t hear you.”  “I can’t see you.”  “I can’t move my arm.”

IMG_2118Patrick, who had quit working as researcher in the pharmaceutical industry so he could create deeper connections with clients, understood the importance of building relationships. Gradually, he got to know the people who lived in the community. He wanted to tailor an artistic experience specific to each person’s abilities and needs.

Over time, the people who couldn’t see, hear, or move were all happily involved in painting.

One woman seemed to blossom when holding the brush and stroking on the paint. Even though she couldn’t later remember to say, “I’ve been painting,” she enjoyed the experience.

One day, Patrick was on another floor in the care community when he encountered this woman and her daughter.

Her daughter said to Patrick,” You are the painter.”

Patrick was thrilled her mother had been able to mention the art therapy sessions. But before he could respond, the mother said, “No, the painter is me.”

“Inside, she was seeing herself as an artist,” Patrick says. “The painting strengthened her identity.”

IMG_2084Patrick has learned to approach each person with flexibility. Sometimes Patrick jump starts his artists with a squiggle of color on the page. Then he steps back to let them respond with their own squiggle. If they’re stymied, he offers a choice of two colors.

He also uses collage techniques to inspire his artists. He selects three separate pictures, each with one recognizable thing, such as a house, tree, or dog. He shows the photos to the artist, and asks, “Which one of these attracts you?” When the artist chooses a photo, Patrick then asks, “Where would you like to put this on the paper?”  He and the artist apply paste to the paper.

“We don’t turn over the picture and apply paste, because the image then disappears and that can be confusing,” he says.

When the picture is glued to the paper, Patrick discusses a color that’s already in the picture.

“You could take the blue in the sky and extend it,” he might suggest.  This suggestion often inspires the artists to start painting.  If they get stuck, Patrick says,  “What might look good near the house?” In this way, the painting expands.

For one woman, painting began as a series of colors and grew into a personal story.

She pasted a house and began expanding the lawn. Then she drew a bridge and weeks later, she added in a dog. At first, she was painting “a house, a bridge and a dog.” As the picture took shape, she said, “This is my house and my dog and this is the bridge we had to cross to get to the house.” The process of painting had loosened memories of her childhood home.

IMG_2090“When I share a piece of art by one of my students, I also share the story behind it,” Patrick says. “The act of creation is more important than the results.”

Tips:

Pick something that is easy for you, the care partner.

Put a point of color on the pages, then stand back. Offer support but don’t paint.

Enjoy the process and don’t get stuck on the results.

 

Thanks to Berna Huebner, founder of the Hilgos Foundation and co-producer of the documentary, “I Remember Better When I Paint,” for suggesting we meet  with Patrick.

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

COMING SOON: Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together 

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Get Cooking on Giving Back

The assembly line stretched around the spacious dining room table and each person focused fully on his task. One man spread mayonnaise on bread. Another placed turkey slices and another added cheese. Another slipped the sandwich into a baggie and others assembled the lunches, adding potato chips and a cookie. All worked diligently; there was a special purpose to this meeting of the Men’s Club at Dolan Memory Care Homes in Creve Coeur, Missouri. They were giving these homemade meals to the fire fighters in their community as a way of showing their appreciation.

Charlie making fire station lunch Charles making lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten residents of varying abilities, including all levels of memory impairment, contributed to the sandwich brigade. Those who needed help had an assistant with them.

“The participating residents were filled with high energy and good spirits,” says Mary Kate Halm, LMSW, Admissions Coordinator of Dolan, who organized the activity. “They were excited to be engaged.”

The local fire department had invited the group to tour the station when they delivered the lunches. The experience included opening up the sides of the fire truck. One of the residents, who was usually indifferent to outings, used to be a tool designer. When he saw the tools in the fire truck, his eyes grew wide and he became very animated.

“Everyone enjoyed being engaged in a purposeful activity. They loved the tour and they asked excellent questions,” Mary Kate says. They wanted to know the details of their training, how much each truck cost, how much their equipment weighed, and more.  The residents weren’t the only ones engaged.

“The firemen loved the attention,” Mary Kate says. “Plus, they were patient, communicated clearly, and were considerate of those in walkers and wheelchairs.”

The community volunteer activity generated a lot of joy and curiosity.

“They were completely connected to the experience,” Mary Kate says. “They were learning, they were giving back, and they were fully present. We created a moment of joy and that’s all that matters.”

Men's Club with firefighters

Get ready to give back:

Mary Kate offers these tips for connecting with the community and giving back.

  • Look for a service organization that you admire. This can be emergency responders such as fire fighters, police, sheriffs, EMTs, as well as animal rescue teams, cancer support organizations, and more.
  • Find a project that’s fun for you and for the person living with dementia, a project you can both participate in. If you have friends and family who’d like to help, this is a great time to get others involved.
  • Coordinate with the organization and find a time to deliver your gifts. If it’s of interest, ask for a chance to learn more about the organization.

Jim Relling helmet

For more interesting activity ideas, visit https://t.e2ma.net/message/gxreo/4bbql

https://www.facebook.com/DolanCare1994/

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

COMING SOON: Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together 

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