Posts Tagged ‘alzheimer’s’

Dementia in the Land of Vietnam

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

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

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

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

Dr. Binh and her team have extended the program.

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

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

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

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 Transferring Skills and Adapting Purpose: Wisdom from Paulan Gordon

As Director of Operations for a national call center, Paulan Gordon’s work required an intense travel schedule, detailed project management skills, and a rigorous adherence to industry standards. So when she started feeling confused, she attributed the struggles to stress. Some days, she felt so overwhelmed that she locked herself in her office and called her husband to come pick her up early.

She was asked to step down from her position. Initially, the loss of her career was both financially and emotionally staggering.  Suddenly, she had no purpose, no income, and no peer group. She had to reinvent her life.

In 2012, at the age of 57, Paulan was diagnosed with vascular dementia. After a period of uncertainty, Paulan began using her interpersonal, communication, and management skills and volunteering as a mentor and a dementia advocate.

“I’ve learned there’s a lot more to life than success in business,” she says.

Building Friendships

When she was working, Paulan was so busy she didn’t have time to build friendships. Now, through her mentoring, she has developed deep connections with others who are living with dementia.

“The relationships you create within the walls of dementia are so intimate,” Paulan says. “People talk very openly about their personal problems and challenges. I feel enriched, being part of these conversations and having such close friends.”

Her work as a dementia mentor has also given Paulan a sense of purpose.

“I work with four people and all of them appreciate my phone calls and my caring. That appreciation boosts my spirits,” she says.

Through her mentoring and advocacy work, she’s met doctors, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, and others who have applied their intelligence and skills to living successfully with dementia.

Speaking out for Adaptation

When Paulan gave business speeches, her hands grew clammy and her mouth dry. She battled nervousness and worried about getting facts wrong and making errors.

“Now, I don’t get very nervous,” she says. “I’m speaking from my heart about things close to me, so I can’t make a mistake. Plus, I’m motivated: I want to help others and I want people to understand the truth about dementia.”


Letting Go of Difficulty

“You’ve asked me that question five times already,” Paulan’s husband says.

“Then it must be really important,” she answers.

Paulan is happy she can laugh at trying situations. She has let go of things she can no longer do. She stopped driving because spatial relationships were difficult for her.  Paulan knows she’s forgetful and sometimes repeats herself. Her husband and family take that repetition in their stride.  She’s also trained her family not to interrupt her when she’s talking, because she can easily lose track of what she was saying.

“My husband doesn’t call attention to my deficits and I forget I have them,” she says.

Proactively, he reminds her about meetings and appointments. She uses a big planner and makes detailed notes, including instructions on how to sign onto the internet, and notes on various conversations.

Changing Reading and Money

Paulan is constantly using her creativity to solve problems. She was an avid reader, but her memory retention has diminished and understanding complicated novels with dozens of characters became a challenge.

“If I put down a book, I can’t remember what happened at the beginning,” she says. “Although there is an upside to the situation: I could save money reading the same books over and over again.”

She temporarily put down her tomes and started reading short stories and magazines. This allowed her to continue her beloved hobby without so much frustration.

She also worked around her reduced mathematical abilities. When she shops, she hands the cashier an extra dollar, so she doesn’t get overwhelmed by counting out coins.

“I hope people are honest when they give me change,” she says.

Stirring up her Spirits

“I don’t worry about dying” she says. “I basically feel positive.”

Many people have a distorted view of dementia. With her speaking and writing, Paulan helps people understand the truths of the disease.

“I like sharing ways to support friends and loved ones who are living with dementia,” she says. “This information helps prevent decline and dramatically increases the well being of both care partners and people living with dementia.”

Meanwhile, Paulan’s advocacy and mentoring work has filled her life with depth, friendships, creativity, and purpose.

To learn more from Paulan, order her book:

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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Moving from Depression to Purpose: Wisdom from Dementia Advocate and Mentor Robert Bowles, Jr.

Once again, Robert Bowles, Jr., age 65,  could not sleep. Since he’d been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia two years ago, his nights had randomly been plagued with terrifying hallucinations and vivid nightmares that he often acted out. He was exhausted, depressed, and anxious. Plus, he had had to sell his beloved pharmacy and prematurely end a meaningful 40-year career as the community’s trusted pharmacist.

That dismal night, Robert awoke at 1:00 a.m. and dragged himself into his office. He felt a horrible heaviness in his heart

and he cried out to God.

“God,” he said, “Take me home. I don’t want my family to go through this disease.  I can’t endure this any longer.”

As he sank into a chair, he heard a voice, as strong and clear as if someone was sitting right beside him: “Use your five life principles for people who are living with dementia.”

Robert slapped his hand onto his forehead and said to himself, “God is not through with me yet.”

And that realization filled him with hope.

Amending His Purpose: The Five Principles

Love, care, education, encouragement, and hope: these were the principles Robert adhered to with his work, his family, and in his community.

“Understanding that those same tenets could help families affected by dementia was a transformational experience that gave me purpose,” he says.

Robert believes, “People living with dementia need to be encouraged to maintain purpose. While your original purpose may not be possible, you can always modify your vision and continue to live with depth and meaning.”

Throughout his career, Robert was always purpose-driven and outcome-oriented. Along with those qualities, he infuses his current advocacy and mentoring work with compassion. Early on, he realized, “People don’t care what you know; they want to know what you care about.”

Standing up for Personhood

“I made a decision that I would not let dementia define who I was,” Robert says. “ I’m still Robert. I believe in personhood.”

He also believes in learning, overcoming fear, and trying new things. Robert serves on the Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias (GARD) State Plan Group. He is involved with the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA) and works with the Dementia Action Alliance and the Dementia Spotlight Foundation. He qualified as  a trainer at the Rosalyn Carter Institute and he completed the coursework to became a Certified Eden at Home Associate.  Robert has also been trained in Dementia Beyond Drugs, which teaches ways to decrease behavioral expressions without medications.

Recently, a lady asked him, “How are you able to speak when you have dementia?”

Robert answered, “When I sit there waiting to speak, my mind is all over the place. I wonder, ‘Will I be able to speak, or is the train going to jump the track?’ Then I tell myself, “I am going to have fun.”
He has fun and he speaks from his heart. Audiences connect with him.

Recently, Robert told his neurologist, “I don’t have time to die.” Every year, he typically speaks to more than 100 groups, sharing his story, breaking down stereotypes, educating people on dementia, and inspiring people to live with heart and purpose. ##

Practical  Tips from Robert

Adopt the ASAP philosophy: Acceptance, Socialization, Attitude, and Purpose. Accept your disease and know you are not your disease. Keep and expand your social network. Live with a positive attitude. Be fueled by a purpose.  ASAP was one of the touchstones that delivered Robert from “the Valley of Darkness.”  “Both care partners and people living with dementia benefit from ASAP concepts,” Robert says.

Prepare for your doctor’s visits. As a practicing pharmacist, Robert noticed many people did not prepare for medical visits and therefore didn’t get the information they most needed. He keeps a list of his symptoms. As changes occur, write them down. Before the visit, select your top three issues. Hand this list to the  nurse to give to the doctor. “You save time and get better outcomes,” he says.

For more information about Robert, please visit:

For more information about living well with dementia, please visit Dementia Action Alliance,

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

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A Winning Combination: Children, Exercise, and Music

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

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

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

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

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

Sing-O at Bingo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Comparisons and Compassion

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

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

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

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


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

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Insider Dementia Friendly Travel Tips, from Laurie Scherrer

This year, Laurie Scherrer is taking a number of trips: Atlanta, to speak at a conference, South Carolina, for a family reunion, and the Caribbean, as a speaker and participant in a dementia-friendly cruise. Since she is living with early onset dementia, Laurie plans out her trips, taking into consideration her needs and the chaos that can be a natural part of any journey. Here are some insider dementia friendly travel tips from Laurie.


Planning for a Smooth Flight

Laurie contacts TSA and her airline, notifying them of her disability, so they can mark it on her ticket. She and her husband both paid for a TSA pass, so they can go in together. That helps her avoid the bombarding noise, distraction, and exhausting wait inherent in a long check-in line

“The TSA staff will walk you through the line,” she says.

Laurie is sensitive to noises, so the constant airport announcements, the din of hundreds of conversations, and the drone of background sounds present challenges.

“I walk into a restaurant and I hear the clanging of the dishes, the forks on the plates, the waiter’s shoes thudding against the floor,” she says. “I have lost my ability to filter sound, and those noises are as strong as any conversation I’m having.”

To minimize distraction and confusion and to help her concentrate, Laurie often wears noise-cancelling headsets.

Once in the airport, she tries to find a quiet place to sit.

“I don’t sit at the gate for two hours with a slew of people,” she says. “Sometimes a restaurant or bar is quiet. For overseas trips, you can try to get access to an airport lounge.”

She tries to get a seat towards the front of the plane, to avoid additional waiting and wading through a crush of passengers.


Packing it Up

Two weeks before a trip, Laurie organizes her clothes for each day. She puts on an outfit, then takes a picture of it.

“On the picture I write, ‘Purple shirt, black slacks, white sneakers, white socks, etc.,’” she says. “Then when I pack, I put each day’s entire outfit together, including socks and underwear. That makes getting dressed so much easier.”


Getting Oriented

At any new hotel, Laurie and her husband walk around the entire building so Laurie can get oriented. When she is traveling alone, she talks to the hotel manager, to explain her situation. At one lodge, the receptionist escorted Laurie to her room and helped her unpack. Laurie carries a tag with her name and room number on it, in case of sudden confusion.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she says.


Taking Breaks

Laurie has already planned her quiet time and her personal getaways for the upcoming cruise, where she is both a traveler and a speaker/educator.

“On cruise ships, the library is often a quiet haven,” she says.

She also avoids group shore excursions, as it is hard for her to enjoy being in a crowd.

But it’s not hard for Laurie to relish travel and to revel in engaging in new experiences and meeting new people. It just takes a little planning and a lot of taking care of herself.   #

To learn more about Laurie, visit

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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Widening the World Through Travel

As the waiter served dessert, Lori La Bey looked around the table at her family and smiled. She couldn’t believe she had pulled this off — her children, her siblings and their children, and her parents all enjoying a Caribbean cruise together.  Her mother was living with Alzheimer’s and her father had brain cancer: they had assumed they wouldn’t get to travel again. They were beaming and Lori knew all her planning had been worth it. She was widening the world through travel.

She still treasures the family pictures from this trip. This meaningful travel experience inspired Lori, founder and host of  Alzheimer’s Speaks, to orchestrate a cruise for people who are living with dementia and their families.

“Travel is a normal part of life,” Lori says. “When you stop traveling, your world becomes smaller.”

From her years caring for her mom, Lori understands how easy it is to feel isolated and stuck. She also understands the joy of engaging in the world, trying new things, and meeting new people. Her trip enriched her family and she wants to offer others that gift of connection and adventure.

Lori also learned some tips from traveling with her parents. Here are a few ideas for creating a smooth traveling experience for yourself and for someone who is living with dementia:

Create a flexible travel experience. Lori chose cruising because it can be reasonably priced, you can unpack once and stay in the same room the entire trip, and there’s lots of flexibility with eating (including free room service), activities, and touring. Cruising is also ideal for the intergenerational experience, offering activities for all ages.

Make the person living with dementia part of planning the trip. Discuss the trip with all involved, asking for feedback and talking about what each person really wants to do. Incorporate those dreams into the trip.

Empower your travelers. Lori packed all her parents things into one giant suitcase. Her father had always been the one managing the luggage and he really wanted something to carry. “I hadn’t thought to pack a couple of small bags so he and my mom could feel like regular travelers,” Lori says. “People want something to be in charge of so they don’t feel left out.”

Work with a travel agent and make your life easier. Plan in advance for noise, long transfers, layovers, long car rides, and other chaos. If flying, call the airport if you need to arrange for wheelchairs or other inner airport transportation. To mute noises, bring earplugs. Carry along items that soothe and comfort each of us, including favorite music and head phones. If you’re cruising, talk to the cruise lines in advance, discussing special needs, including dietary, medical, and any mobility issues.

Take pictures and videos and document these precious moments. You’ll enjoy looking through these memories again and again together.

“Travel is about being together and widening your world,” Lori says.  “It’s a wonderful way to build those moments of magical and meaningful connection.”

For an amazing way to widen your world, consider Lori’s upcoming November Dementia Friendly Conference and Cruise. Lori and a team of educators, including a panel of inspiring people who are living with dementia, have planned a nurturing, connecting, educational, and inspiring Caribbean trip. For more information, visit,


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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Enrich Life by Adapting Hobbies 

We all want to be engaged in purposeful and fun activities. When we enrich life by adapting hobbies, we help people living with dementia stay engaged in activities that are meaningful and interesting to them.

Discover What’s Most Important

To adapt hobbies, ask yourself: What is most important about the activity?

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?

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 those who like cooking, is it the measuring and stirring? Do they enjoy the aromas and textures of the ingredients? Is it the joy of preparing something that thrills others? Or is it the simple pleasure of tasting delicious foods?

With those answers, you can support the aspects of the activity that really resonate. You can enrich life by adapting hobbies.

Here is a story about adapting your attitude.

Embrace the New News

That Tuesday morning, she walked into the kitchen and saw her husband, relaxed in his chair, drinking his morning coffee, and reading the newspaper. He loved his morning ritual and everything was as it always had been. Except now he was holding the newspaper upside down. At first, she was upset, angry that dementia had robbed him of reading. As she battled with her feelings, he hummed, a sign he was happy and content. She took a breath and realized, she too should be happy and content.

Go for the Greens

I love this story from Mara Botoni, author of When Caring Takes Courage. Here’s how she kept her grandfather, who was living with dementia,  involved in his golf game. For a time, he walked the golf course and played with empathetic friends. When he could no longer play, he liked being driven around the course, enjoying the scent of freshly mown grass, the vistas of rolling green lawns, and the thwack of a well-hit ball. Later, at home, the family set up an indoor putting green and watched golf tournaments on television with him.



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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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,

Reading in the Moment: Activities and Stories to Share with Adults with Dementia

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

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Dementia Journey: Planting Seeds and Growing Engagement

I met so many inspiring people when I was writing Connecting in the Land of Dementia. Activities director Lori Condict, from Chestnut Glen Assisted Living by Americare in St. Peters, Missouri, created an inspiring program focused on planting seeds and growing engagement. Whether you’re a family care partner or you work in a facility, you’ll learn from Lori’s project.

Planting Seeds and Growing Engagement

“Mable, I could use your assistance this morning,” Lori Condict says. “The tomatoes are ripe and I need help picking them. Are you available?”

Mable nods. Lori waits while Mable puts on her gardening hat and gloves. Then they join others from the memory care community outside in the garden.

“What are you thinking about Mable?” Lori asks, handing her a small bucket.

“My first bite of summer tomato.”

“Let’s try one of these,” Lori says.  She knows that Mable and her husband used to have a vast vegetable and flower plot.

Mable plucks a cherry tomato off the vine and pops it into her mouth. Slowly, she picks another and plops it in her bucket. Others in her community are also harvesting the tomatoes.

“We’ll be sharing our vegetables with the food bank, so others less fortunate will enjoy this fresh produce, “Lori reminds her.

“That’s good,” Mable says. “Everyone needs to taste these tomatoes.”

Mable lives in the memory care unit in Chestnut Glen Assisted Living by Americare in St. Peters, Missouri. She is one of the 15 residents working on the Operation Riverfront gardening project.  Lori, the activities director in the care facility, is a city girl. But she knew she’d have plenty of help from her residents. She also knew that they would thrive knowing they had a purpose and were giving back to their community.

Seeding Empowerment

Lori started simply, with a bunch of tomato, cucumber, squash, peppers, and pea seeds, pretty and colorful vegetables that would remind residents of their home gardens. Lori had tasks for all abilities: some held little containers while another filled them with dirt; some tamped in the seeds and others labeled them. Lori provided everyone with special hats and gloves.

While they worked, they reminisced, talking about favorite tomato dishes and summertime activities.

Sharing the Bounty

When it was time to share with the local food pantry, the residents did the harvesting and packing.

“We had planters, pickers, packers, counters, and a watering crew,” Lori says. “People who’d been depressed and disengaged got involved. Through working on the project, they felt alive and useful; they had a purpose.”

Want to grow plants, connections, and a sense of purpose? Here are some tips:

  • Select flowers, plants, vegetables, and herbs that are pretty, colorful, easy to grow, and have some meaning to the person living with dementia.
  • Create small tasks that are interesting and pleasurable.
  • To increase the sense of purpose, find ways to share blooms, cuttings, vegetables, and herbs with family, friends, and community members.
  • For those who can’t go outdoors, bring the plants to them in containers.
  • Infuse the work with opportunities for conversation.

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 Marvels of Misplacing

As I was worrying over this issue, which seems to plague so many people I know, I came across this piece I wrote several years ago. It reminded me to “seek” the creativity and joy hidden in every situation.  
Is it possible to have ten pairs of reading glasses and lose them all in the same afternoon?

“I don’t know where my glasses are,” Mom tells me. I bite my lip; she’s been misplacing things all day. We are supposed to be spending a day drawing and painting, trying to connect mom with the artist she used to be. We are supposed to bake cookies together and look through magazines. But I’ve been spending much of the time crawling around, looking under the sofa and chairs and between the cushions for the disappearing glasses.

“Let’s make our cookies. You won’t need your glasses for that,” I say.

“I need my glasses.”

           As I search, I wonder when it became a drudgery instead of a joy to find things. One of my favorite childhood games was Hide ‘N Seek. I loved being the Seeker, loved the surprise of finding someone in a tucked away, mysterious place. I had a special trick I used when I was “It.” I would close my eyes and say, “If I were Dan, where would I hide?” Then an image floated into my mind and I’d race to the hiding place. Half the time, I was right.

Do I still have “it?” I close my eyes and think, “If I were Mom’s glasses, where would I be?” The refrigerator comes to my mind. I rush into the kitchen and fling open the refrigerator door, only to see the usual chaos. But I’m hungry, so I reach for an apple. Behind the fruit is a pair of reading glasses, sprawled across the shelf.

Triumphantly, I take the glasses to Mom.

“These feel nice,” she says.

Not only has my mother reminded me of the importance of creativity, curiosity and play, but she also discovered a great summer time tip: chill your glasses and cool off your face.

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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