Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimer’s Caregiving’

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

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

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

What benefits have you seen from your laughter yoga practice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is adding laughter to our day important? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Laughing Increases Happiness and Health: Enriching the Dementia Journey

Ever since I interviewed Dr. Madan Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, I’ve wanted to learn more and laugh more. That’s because laughing increases health and happiness.

There are no Downward Facing Dogs, Warriors, or other traditional yoga postures in the laughter practice.  Instead the focus is on gentle breathing exercises, easy movements, and, of course laughing. Dr. Kataria researched the science of laughter and learned that the body does not differentiate between intentional and real hilarity.

Dr. Kataria believes that laughing is a skill anyone can master and laughter yoga is ideal for people living with dementia. He says: “Laughter Yoga is an aerobic workout that helps uplift your mood within minutes by releasing endorphins from your brain cells. You often remain energized, relaxed, and in good spirits throughout the day. Laughter also makes your immune system stronger and lowers your blood pressure. Plus laughing with others builds a social bond and reduces feelings of isolation.”

Several weeks ago, Ron and I journeyed to Ferryville, Wisconsin, to study laughter with the esteemed Master Trainer, Robert Rivest. We are now Certified Laughter Yoga Leaders. Delightfully, laughing increases happiness and health and over the next months, we’d love to share some of the benefits and joys of intentional laughing with you.

It’s easy to add splashes of laughter throughout your day.  Here’s an idea from Robert for getting started:  VIDEO

Robert taught us the exercise The Wall and we shared it with our friends Vicki and Saundra. Vicki is so inspiring the way she manages her many physical challenges, which include early onset dementia. She is the best laugher.  After a couple of attempts to laugh our way through our imaginary boundaries, we all felt lighter, happier, and more connected: VIDEO

For more information about laughter yoga, visit RobertRivest.com

Also enjoy LaughterYoga.org

You’ll find lots of videos to lure you into laughing. And stay tuned to this blog, for more moments of ha-ha-ha-ing.

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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Make Dreams Come True 

Make Dreams Come True 

Make Dreams Come TrueAll her life, my mother dreamed of visiting Japan.  She loved Japanese art, food, and culture. But she thought such a trip was too expensive and complicated. Even as Mom struggled with cognitive impairment, her yearning of Japan remained. Then my brother moved to Tokyo and prepared to make dreams come true. He arranged for business class travel for Mom and Dad. He squired my parents everywhere and even set up a meeting with a Japanese master potter. He documented it all with photographs so we could all share in the joy.

Recently Ron and I visited Edencrest at Green Meadows in Johnston, Iowa, to learn more about their memory care work. When Nick Lensch, Assistant Manager, and Susan Babcock, Life Enrichment Coordinator, told me about their Dare to Dream program, I wanted to learn more.

“This program brings happiness to the dreamers living with dementia, their families, the staff, and other members of the memory care community,” Susan told us.

As  Susan gets to know each resident, she usually uncovers an unfulfilled dream. She brainstorms on how she can carry out the dream, including who can help from the community.

“Bringing the community in on the dream is wonderful for all of us,” she says.

Once she has the dream planned, she talks to the family. Often the dream experience is one the family treasures. Here are two of the dreams they orchestrated :

Make Dreams Come TrueJoe had been a star baseball player in high school and a minor league player for a couple of years. He loved all things baseball.

“I wish my sons and grandson could have seen me play ball,” Joe often said.

Susan heard the wistfulness in his voice and created a plan. Partnering with the Iowa Cubs, she arranged for Joe to throw out the first ball during one of their games. Both his sons were there to witness their father, one son flying in from Japan for the event! Joe’s grandson stood by his side for the grand pitch, cheering him on. Then the entire family enjoyed watching the game together. #

Make Dreams Come TrueMarianne loved to sing and often reminisced about times she and her father sang together.

“I wish I would go on the road and sing,” she often said.

Nick and Susan had an even better idea. They contacted a local singing group and asked if Marianne could perform with them. They were delighted to be part of her dream. Marianne selected favorite tunes. Her face shone with joy as she and the group performed to an enthusiastic audience, including her grateful daughter.

“We believe in embracing the moment,” Nick says. “Making dreams come true creates a string of treasured connective moments.”

To make dreams come true, here are a few tips:

  • Listen to each person’s stories and notice favorite ones. Ask yourself, is there a wish or dream tucked into one of those tales?
  • Double check with another family member or friend, to see if you’re on the right track.
  • Brainstorm ideas to fulfill the dream. What do you need in terms of people, venues, witnesses? Who would enjoy helping?
  • Put together a small team and set the time and place. Have someone ready to photograph and video the celebration.

For more ideas on how to make dreams come true, visit:

Make Dreams Come True

Nick and Susan

seniorhousingmanagement.org

Don’t forget your own dreams!

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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Adapting Hobbies to Meet Changing Abilities

Years ago, I worked as an activity director at a county home in Butler, Mo. There I learned about adapting hobbies to meet changing abilities. Albert taught me that even when you can’t grip a domino, you can still enjoy the game. Every Wednesday, we dropped him off at the town square for his weekly session. A friend helped him place the pieces and he often won. Sadie taught me the power of memorizing poetry.  Though she could no longer see the world around her, she enriched her inner world by memorizing dozens of verses. Visiting her was like opening a book of best-loved poems. The residents all taught me the joy of sitting around a table together, working on a project. Even if the project didn’t work out the way we envisioned, the energy and camaraderie did.

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to offer a presentation on engaging through creative activities for the National Association of Activity Professionals.  These professionals are so vital in helping people stay creative and connected throughout the dementia journey. We were inspired by their depth of knowledge, compassion, and eagerness to learn.

As part of our presentation, we discussed adapting hobbies to meet changing abilities. We shared ideas from Connecting in the Land of Dementia, and our participants offered ideas from their experiences.  Here are some tips for adapting hobbies:

Ask yourself: What does the person love most about doing this activity? What are the most important components for them?

For example, for gardeners, is it the feel of their hands in the soil? Is it producing flowers or harvesting vegetables? Is it having something to take care of?  Or is it the ritual coffee and cookies enjoyed after the work is done?

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

For scrapbookers, do they enjoy looking through photos or gluing pictures on the page? Do they like leafing through magazines and cutting out pertinent words and pictures or adding stickers and other playful accents. Or maybe it’s the companionship of working together.

By gathering answers to these types of questions, you can break down the activity’s components and encourage people living with dementia to keep pursuing their interests.

If you have ideas for adapting activities, we’d love to hear about them. For more information on the NAAP, visit https://naap.info/

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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Engaging during the Dementia Journey: One Story and Six Tips

My satchel was packed with potential connectors, not the electrical type, but the emotional, engaging type.  I had a sheaf of favorite poems, an Audubon bird book, a list of songs Mom and I liked, some bright red Mardi Gras beads, several colorful scarves, and some paper and markers. I was eager to see what Mom might fancy and I felt prepared for any creative impulse. But as usual, my mom surprised me.  When I walked into her room in the memory care community, she was sitting on the bed, fiddling around with a blanket. She smiled and held out her hands. I sat beside her, held her hands, and smiled at her.  She laughed. I laughed. She made a little funny face. I mirrored her. I followed her lead until she suddenly gripped my fingers and closed her eyes. I closed mine, but kept sneaking peeks at her.  She was asleep, a lazy smile on her face, so I closed my eyes and rested with her. This was one of many ways of engaging during the dementia journey.

Spontaneity and surrender were two of the many lessons my mom taught me during her dementia journey. I loved preparing for our time together, cobbling together ideas to engage us both. Sometimes we sat quietly, leafing through magazines. Other times, I sang Mom show tunes. Still other times, I simply went with the flow and enjoyed Mom’s energy and spontaneity.

My mom has since passed away but her spiritual and emotional gifts linger on. When I visit friends who are living with dementia, here are a few ideas for connecting.

  • Choose a quiet space relatively free of distractions.
  • Select a time of day when you both have lively energy.
  • Bring a project (or projects) you’d both enjoy.
  • If the person is shy about creative projects, issue a low-key invitation, such as, “Want to help me with this project?”
  • Allow the activity to unfold at its own pace, offering support as necessary and encouragement along the way. Enjoy the process.
  • If the activity doesn’t go as planned, don’t worry. Go with the flow and relish your time together.

(A version of this story was originally published in eCareDiary)

 

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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Five Tips for Using Music to Connect

Even as a child, I was using music to connect with my parents. My father was a DJ and my mother enjoyed show tunes and old standards. Those songs often played on our record player and we all enjoyed listening. Later, I used that same music to connect me to my mom and dad during her dementia journey.   

Today, I am thrilled to sharing the insights of Mary Sue Wilkinson, Founder of Singing Heart to Heart. Just reading her ideas makes me want to burst into song.

Meaningful Visits: 5 Tips for Using Music to Connect

      By: Mary Sue Wilkinson, Founder of Singing Heart to Heart

Let’s face it. Visiting someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be hard. You want to connect. You want to make them happy. But things have changed. I understand. I’ve been there. I found a way to connect that I’d like to share with you. Let me explain.

My father in law Virgil had dementia and eventually lost all language. The only thing he could say was “gaba gaba.” His face would light up when I came to visit. I think he knew I was someone he loved. But after the first hug and shared smile…I would flounder. Carrying on a one sided conversation only went so far. I would leave feeling lonely and discouraged. I bet he felt the same. As much as I hate to admit it, I began to put off visiting him.

Virgil had been a Church of the Brethren minister. He knew and loved all the old southern gospel songs. One day I took my guitar and began to play and sing for him. I figured I could at least entertain him for an hour or so. I started singing an old favorite: I’ll Fly Away. Virgil lifted his head, broke into a huge smile and began to sing along. Every word. Perfect pitch. He even added harmony  From then on music was the focus of our visits.

It didn’t cure Virgil’s dementia. He couldn’t carry on a conversation with me when the song ended. (Although I have seen this happen with others.) But we connected in a meaningful, joyful activity. This was something we could do together. I began to look forward to our visits. I had learned that we could be together without conversation.

Have you ever hesitated to visit someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s because you were afraid you wouldn’t know what to do or what to talk about? Do you feel like you are losing your connection to your loved one or friend?

Music was the “gift” that allowed me to have meaningful, connected, and happy visits with my father-in-law. I hope that it can do the same for you. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

5 tips for using music when you visit someone with dementia

1. When dementia has progressed to the point where conversations are difficult, or even impossible – turn to music. Singing together and/or listening to music can bring happiness regardless of skill or memory. Remember that you are seeking moments of joy and connection. A shared music experience may or may not elicit shared memories. What it will do, is give you a shared experience, in the moment.

2. Bring music with you to your visit – either holiday music or music popular when they were young. Plan ahead and then share it by saying, “I brought some music I thought we could enjoy together.” If the person you are visiting does not have a CD player in their room, bring one from home, borrow one from the activity director or consider purchasing one as a gift. (You can purchase or download my CD of well known songs here.)

3. If you don’t play recorded music, you can simply sing. Even singing one or two songs will lift spirits – for everyone. It’s a great way to establish a positive mood and communicate that you are someone “good.” Choose well known and simple songs such as You Are My Sunshine, My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean, or I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Or choose well known holiday songs or songs of faith. These songs often evoke the strongest response from people, bringing a powerful connection. (You can download my free song guides here on my website.)

4. Involve your children or grandchildren in planning a musical visit. Give them the job of figuring out what was popular when your loved one was in their 20’s and 30’s and downloading that music to play during the visit. Let them use their smart phone to make a playlist. Do they have a wireless speaker they could bring along?
If your loved one asks for a song you don’t have ready, simply go to You Tube to find it.

5. Add some energy and fun to your musical time together by patting and clapping to the beat. Don’t hesitate to dance. You may be surprised. Sometimes people can dance better than they can walk. Standing or sitting you can still “dance” together and enjoy a sweet connection.

Remember: “When words fail, music speaks.”    (Hans Christian Anderson)

Mary Sue Wilkinson is the founder of Singing Heart to Heart where each year she leads close to 400 singing and music experiences for seniors. She specializes in using music in dementia care. Mary Sue is the author of “Songs You Know By Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care” which includes her recording of favorite sing alongs as well as a contribution from Teepa Snow. Learn more and contact Mary Sue at Singing Heart to Heart.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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Sharing Ideas for Staying Connected

“How do we stay connected during the dementia journey?”  This is a question with dozens of creative answers. Recently, we spent time at Northland Shepherd Center, hosted by Dianna Englander. We  were sharing ideas for staying connected with the Together We Care Caregiver Support Group, a lovely gathering of family caregivers and friends.  

Caregiving is such a creative practice, demanding flexibility, humor, and the willingness to make mistakes and try again. We discussed ideas from Connecting in the Land of Dementia, including incorporating singing, laughter, and art into everyday life. We also explored the power of nature and talked about unique concepts for bringing the outdoors inside.  We brainstormed different ways we could prepare food together and connect in the kitchen.

Here are some extra ideas we learned from our audience. I’ve changed the names to protect people’s privacy.

Anne’s father, who was normally very active, became very upset when his care facility had to temporarily curtail his movements, due to a flu outbreak.

“I want to go to the hospital,” he told the care staff repeatedly. Finally, they called Anne and asked her to come over.

“Dad was just wild,” she told us. “So I asked him to take a deep breath with me, and told him we were going to watch a basketball game before we problem-solved.” They watched an hour of basketball, which soothed both of them.

“I want to go to the hospital,” her father said.

“Why?” she asked.

“So I won’t feel alone,” he said. “I’m scared to be alone.”

Anne realized how social her father was, always walking down the hallways, greeting people, spending time visiting. She instantly began to problem solve, getting permission to walk down the corridors, wearing protective masks, gathering phone numbers of her father’s friends at the home, so he could call them.

“Taking a break and doing something soothing first really helped us figure out the problem and then solve it,” she said.

…………………….

Before her dementia advanced, Sandra’s friend loved singing in the church choir. Now, when Sandra visits her, her friend frequently asked the same question over and over. Sandra turns to beloved hymns they both know so well and when her friend becomes anxious, starts singing to change the energy. Soon, they are both singing, as they have for so many years, the old hymns guiding them back to a deep connection.

…………………….

Patriotic songs inspired Alvin’s father, Fred. So often, Fred literally tuned out the singers who came to entertain at his memory care community. One day, the group began singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” Instantly, Fred stood and put his hand over his heart. He sang along and kept standing and singing through all the familiar patriotic melodies. Afterwards, he talked about his time in the service, breaking his usual stoic silence.

At the end, we all felt a sense of renewal and companionship. Sharing these important creative ideas had enriched our lives and inspired us anew.

I’d love to hear your ideas for staying connected. Please email me at myinfo@pobox.com.

For more information about the Northland Shepherd Center, visit http://northlandsc.org/about-nsc.html

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

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Finding Meaningful Memory Care

“I feel like I’ve been on extended vacation,” Ron’s father Frank said, after his first day in a memory care facility. “Today was really enjoyable.” Ron and I just melted with happiness. We had visited many facilities, with the hope of finding meaningful memory care with great activities. Frank couldn’t have said anything nicer.

It’s quite an emotional journey, finding meaningful memory care. I asked my friend, Dr. El, Dr. Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide and a columnist for McKnight’s Long Term Care News, for some tips.

Finding Meaningful Memory Care With Engaging Activities

“Remember, everything is an activity,” says Dr. El. She encourages care partners to seek a community with a dedicated memory care program, so people with cognitive impairments can benefit from all the offered activities.

“In a specialized unit, staff are trained to work with people who are living with dementia,” Dr. El says. “This training can help people enjoy greater independence.”

In one facility, a lady liked to wander into people’s rooms and take their jewelry. Rather than getting upset, the staff understood, framed this as “shopping,” and simply returned the jewelry.

“These kinds of insights create a calmer, slower-paced environment that reduces agitation,” says Dr. El.

Seek Structure, Soothing and Variety

Here are some things to look for, as you visit facilities:

  • Is there a home-like atmosphere?
  • Is there a structure to the day?
  • Are there calming activities scheduled for change of shift? Changing shift is disruptive, so some communities orchestrate a teatime with music or other soothing activities.

You’re also making sure there are a variety of activities throughout the day. These should include:

Outdoor Time: Taking people outside makes a big difference in mood, appetite, and the sense of connection to the world.

Movement: Exercise is an important component to health.

Nurturing: Look for activities that make people feel confident and good about themselves, such as spa days or activities that incorporate skills such as cooking, art or gardening, modified to provide a “success” experience.

Engagement: Being engaged, rather than just entertained, inspires a sense of purpose, creativity, and social connection.

Kindness is Everything

“Meet with the recreational therapist,” Dr. El suggests. “Is she compassionate and caring? Are the staff members kind? You can have all the activities in the world but if they’re not done with gentleness and humanity, they won’t work.”

Let the recreation director know what your loved one likes to do and see if she can adapt the activity.

Stay Involved

Visit as often as you can and attend activities together. Encourage friends and relatives to join you. Meet other residents and get to know the families and staff.

“You can act as a connector to create friendships, so residents engage in their own interaction, even when you aren’t there,” Dr. El says.

For more information, visit Dr. Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, http://www.eldercarewithdrel.com,

Treat yourself to Dr. El’s book, The Savvy Resident’s Guide

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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