Posts Tagged ‘caregivers’

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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Boost Body and Spirit with Nature: Tips for Care Partners and People Living with Dementia

“I can’t imagine a world where I couldn’t enjoy outdoor pleasures whenever I want,” said Mike Good, founder of Together in This. As I listened to Mike’s Podcast on the power of nature, I thought of my mother. Mom taught me to love birds, flowers, trees, and mountains. Even in her last days, a yellow rose could catch her attention, inspire her to reach out and touch its tender petals. This simple activity helped boost body and spirit with nature.

There’s increasing research that backs up what I observed with my mom. Strolling or wheeling around a courtyard, sitting on a bench underneath an apple tree, observing a bunny nibble clover, watching someone water a tomato plant — all these outdoor events enhance physical and mental well-being, including improving sleep cycles and reducing agitation.

Garuth Chalfont, PhD, American Society of Landscape Architects, and author of the book, Dementia Green Care, says,  “Nature-oriented activities, such as growing and caring for plants, promote brain neuroplasticity and help us dream, experiment, learn and create. Research shows that nature-based activity is therapeutic and is essentially a form of treatment for dementia symptoms, helping a person remain at home longer.” Garuth is internationally known for his work in designing, building, and researching gardens that benefit people with dementia.

Mike Good says, “The feel of sunshine on my face, the smell of flowers blooming, the sounds of kids frolicking in the park — while these pleasures naturally occur for most of us, millions of people who are living with dementia find themselves unable to enjoy such routine pleasures without assistance”

Taking a loved one who is living with dementia outdoors can be stressful, but staying cooped up inside is hard on both of you. Here is a bouquet of nature’s benefits, inspiring for both people who are living with dementia and those who care for them.

Relaxing outdoor activities

Gardening activities, such as container gardening, planting seeds, watering, weeding, harvesting, sharing flowers and fruits and vegetables

Walking around the yard or strolling through the neighborhood

Discussing people and dogs walking by, asking open-ended questions, such as “Where do you think they’re going?”

Installing a small fountain and a bench, then sitting and enjoying the sound of the water

Sharing a picnic lunch

Drawing or painting outdoors

For those who enjoy projects, have tools visible and available. For a woodworker, set out wood and sandpaper. For a frail gardener, have a container of herbs. For those who like to tidy the yard, offer gardening gloves and a bucket to deposit leaves and twigs.

Bringing Nature Indoors

Garuth says, “If going outdoors is not feasible, look around your living quarters and ask, ‘Where are the best outdoor views? Where is the most sunlight?’ You may need to cut down a light-blocking bush or move a sofa, but you will discover areas where you and your partner can enjoy sitting and watching nature.”

Open the curtains and blinds to let in light.

In temperate weather, open windows and welcome fresh air and birdsong.

Green up the room with houseplants.

Bring in flowers or herbs to stimulate the senses.

Create a comfortable viewing area, with feeders, so you can enjoy watching birds and squirrels.

Gather potting soil, water, and green bean seeds. Spoon the soil into small pots or into an empty egg carton. Place one seed in each and cover with soil, then pour in a little water.

“Touching soil and planting may trigger memories and ideas from earlier years,” Garuth says.

Gathering flowers, walking a tree-lined sidewalk, plucking a cherry tomato off its vine, watering a house plant, gazing out the window at chickadees — these meaningful natural activities increase pleasure, relaxation, social interactions, and sensory stimulation.

For more information about Mike Good and his work, visit http://togetherinthis.com/ and view his nature video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7KWaSUHVQo

To learn more about Garuth’s work, visit http://www.chalfontdesign.com/  and http://www.chalfontdesign.com/lifework.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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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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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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Embracing Person-Centered Dementia Values: The Dementia Action Alliance

One by one, we say hello via video conferencing. We are writers, artists, and arts advocates from all over the country. One sculptor enriches the visual aspects of our meeting by strolling through a museum, giving us occasional glimpses of vibrant art. We meet another artist’s dog. Via video, we see each other’s offices and learn each other’s names and goals. Some of the participants are living with dementia; some are not. All of us are brainstorming ways to use the arts as a catalyst to connect people. Already it is working: through the Dementia Action Alliance, our arts group is already engaging in deep and honest conversation, discussing ways to weave creativity and the arts through June’s conference in Atlanta, and exploring ways we can help others stay connected through the arts.

I have long admired the Dementia Action Alliance and feel honored to be part of their creative process. Their “Person-Centered Dementia Values and Principles” were inspired by the Pioneer Network and have been customized by people living with dementia. Karen Love, Executive Director of DAA, tells us, “Because people who have dementia are the experts, the values are written from their perspective in first person narrative.  This orientation helps us focus on what is important.”

Here are some of their core ideas:

Person-Centered Dementia Values and Principles

• I am a person living with dementia. Spend time getting to know me and relating to me as a person with a unique background, life history, interests and capabilities.

• Help me stay connected to what is important to me. Although aspects of my personhood may become increasingly hidden, I am still here.

• A reciprocal relationship is important to me. Autonomy, choices, dignity, privacy, self-determination are fundamental to my well-being.

• Support my holistic emotional, social, physical, cultural, sexual, and spiritual dimensions.

• Promote my personal growth and development.  Help me continue to experience purpose, meaning, relationships and enjoyment in my daily life.

• Partner with me, utilize my strengths, and provide the right amount of support and opportunities I need to achieve my goals.

• Some dementia symptoms may interfere with my communication. I communicate the best I can; assume positive intent. Attempt to understand my needs and my reality. Please be compassionate.

For me, reading these principles reminds me how much we are all alike.

For more information on this topic and to learn about the DAA’s upcoming conference:

Conference: Re-Imagine Life with Dementia

You’ll enjoy reading this white paper on Living with Dementia: Changing the Status Quo, DAA

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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Enjoy Dementia Inclusive Holiday Cooking

“Who prepared this delicious meal?” a friend asked during a holiday dinner.

I named my brother Dan, our head chef, first. Then I included the support team—myself, my mom, my daughters and nephews.

“Did I help?” Mom whispered as I passed her the mashed potatoes.

20151110-sweet-potato-casserole-vicky-wasik-9-thumb-1500xauto-427744“You sure did,” I told her. ”You mashed the potatoes, put the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole, and mixed the fruit salad.”

“That’s good,” she said. “I like to help.”

Our desire to help and contribute to seasonal celebrations doesn’t end with a diagnosis of dementia. It’s lovely to linger in the kitchen together, preparing food for the holidays. It’s even lovelier when you can adapt and enjoy dementia inclusive holiday cooking so that people of varying abilities can participate.

Rebecca Katz, author of The Healthy Mind Cookbook, sees food as a great equalizer, something anyone can enjoy regardless of abilities. Fixing a delicacy for someone offers a tangible and delicious way to give back.

Here are some tips so you can enjoy dementia inclusive holiday cooking.

  • Leaf through a favorite family cookbook or recipe box and use the pictures and recipes as a catalyst for conversation. Ask open-ended questions, such as, ”What does that brownie recipe make you think of?” “What do you like about the holiday season?”
  • imagesSelect a special recipe to make together. Choose simple, safe and satisfying tasks, such as measuring, adding ingredients , stirring, and tasting.
  • Chose a time of day when you’re both rested.
  • Create a comfortable kitchen environment, by playing familiar seasonal songs you can both hum or sing along to. Reduce extraneous noise and distractions, such as a television in the background.
  • If you wish, take photos during the experience. That way, you can relive the adventure and share with family and friends.
  • Indulge in instant gratification, if possible, by sampling your work when the cooking is complete.
  • Even if the person living with dementia can’t help prepare food, he can still enjoy sitting in on the action and the conversation.

Whether you’re stirring a pot of orzo or dropping mint leaves into cool water, enjoy your time of creation and connection in the kitchen.

A longer version of this piece originally appeared on Joan Lunden’s excellent website:      Enjoy Dementia Inclusive Holiday Cooking.  Thanks to Sue Fitzsimmons, MS, ARNP, Judith Fertig, author of The Memory of Lemon, Kate Pierce, LMSW, Alzheimer’s Association Greater Michigan Chapter, and Rebecca Katz, author of The Healthy Mind Cookbook

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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Shall We Dance?

img_3196Normally, I do not like being the center of attention. But when Sebastian Tomkowski asked me to dance the merengue, I said yes. Actually, my first reply was, "I can't dance." But Sebastian assured me he would guide me, literally, every step of the way.

Sebastian is one of the dancers working with Rhythm Breaks Cares (RBC), a non-profit that specializes in bringing the energy and joy of ballroom dance to people who are living with dementia.  We were lucky to experience one of RBC's sessions in a New York City care facility.

When everyone was gathered in a circle, Stine Moen, one of RBC's founders, put on some Frank Sinatra tunes. Instantly, one woman danced her way into the room.  Her movements were graceful and stylish. When Sebastian invited her to waltz, she readily accepted.

Stine asked a seated women if she'd like to dance. The woman said, "I have this walker and I can't dance with it."

"You can," Stine assured her. "You can use your walker and you and I can dance together."

The woman demurred and sat swaying to the music. But when Stand by Me started playing, she hoisted herself to her feet, grabbed the walker, and began moving rhythmically around the room.

stine-2Two men sat in the circle, seemingly not registering the music. When Stine asked if they'd like to dance, one man held out his hand. Stine took his hand and let him guide the movements, while she made fancy arm gestures that looked as though they were waltzing in an elegant ballroom.Click here for dancing ideas.

One woman sat stock still, but sang along when the song "Fever" played.

"I used to be a singer and my husband played the piano," she told me, when I sat beside her. "But I don't remember the words." She then proceeded to croon along with "I've Got You Under My Skin."

The energy from the music and movement seemed to engage everyone. Even a man who seemed immobile, his mouth tight, his hands clenched up near his face, gradually softened his expression and lowered his hands to his lap.As for me, I reveled in the experience, dancing with the residents or smiling and moving our hands in time to the music. And of course, I loved my once-in-a-lifetime merengue experience.

 

I asked Stine to offer a few tips for care partners who wanted more movement in their lives.

Here are her suggestions.

"We always start with the music." says Stine. "That sets the tone."

Once the music is playing, if possible, make eye contact. Then smile and hold out a hand. Move in ways appropriate to your partner’s abilities.  

Celebrate every movement. Even swaying your arms together to the music is a form of dance.

“It's not about getting the steps right,” Stine says. “It's about connecting through music and movement.”

Want to learn more about the power of dance? Visit the RBC website. Good news—RBC offers training for qualified dancers, so they can bring this exciting program to their own communities.

Click here for additional tips from Stine.

Click here for tips from Sebastian.

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

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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