Each person I interviewed for Connecting in the Land of Dementia inspired me with something meaningful and unique. I wanted to share a few of their ideas with you.
Before I do, here’s a question: What does the song FrimFram Sauce, the recipe for Johnny Marzetti, and cooking have to do with creativity and dementia? Join us Sunday October 9th at 1:30 at the Kansas City Plaza Library to find out! RSVP 816-701-3407
The Often Hidden Poetic Potential
“Value what people with dementia are saying, write it down, tape record it, affirm them when they say interesting or beautiful things because that's their personality showing through in a new way,” says John Killick, internationally acclaimed poet, workshop leader, and author of Communication And The Care Of People With Dementia.
Even though he’s been orchestrating workshops for years, John is still amazed at the strength of the imaginative spirit and at the quality of the poetry.
“Creativity is essential to people with dementia,” John believes. “It bypasses the intellect, provides valuable experiences, and enhances their sense of personhood.”
Making Art Soothes and Engages
“Research is now recognizing how making art soothes, and engages people with dementia,” says Shelley Klammer, artist, therapist and the author of the e-book How to Start An Art Program for the Elderly. “Imagery often expresses what words cannot. A pre-drawn structure allows an anxious painter to relax into the process. Painting familiar subject matter can help a person with dementia settle into a pleasurable, meditative state.”
Uncovering and Celebrating Creativity
“Our basic instincts include discovery and invention, and thus creativity,” says John Zeisel, PhD, author of I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care. “These abilities are hard-wired and people living with dementia can still draw on these skills. They are often exceptionally perceptive, increasingly creative, and have high emotional intelligence. It’s our job to uncover and embrace their abilities so they maintain dignity, independence, and self-respect.”
The Delight of Going to Cultural Activities and Viewing Art
“Looking at art and making observations gives people living with dementia a chance to exercise their imagination and creativity,” says Susan Shifrin, PhD, director, ARTZ Philadelphia. “Many people with dementia have a heightened sensitivity and openness to art, even if they had no previous artistic aptitude.”
“Going to cultural activities offers people a sense of normalcy and gives them a date to put on their calendars,” says Teri Miller, with the Alzheimer's Association Houston & Southeast Texas Chapter. Teri has witnessed the power of creativity and the arts. As the Early Stage Program Manager she says. “When people living with dementia go with friends or care partners, they have an experience to discuss. Even people who say, ‘Oh, I don’t care for museums,’ usually have a great time.”
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.
Life is about rhythm. We vibrate; our hearts are pumping blood; we are a rhythm machine; that’s what we are. – Mickey Hart
Some might have thought it a hassle to be hauling such a large load of percussion instruments, but Renee Kessler didn’t mind. She was thinking of the sudden smile she’d see when her mother-in-law began rhythmically shaking the maracas. Or the joy she’d see in Mr. Norman’s eyes as he beat the drums. She was glad to see the circle of residents in the memory care unit waiting for her and relished offering them choices of bells, clappers, triangles, drums, tambourines, and rain sticks.
“Through our drumming circles, we give people choices, we inspire them and we wake them up. Their eyes brighten when we play music,” Renee says.
Renee has a long history of waking people up through engaging them in creative arts. She worked as a teacher for an esteemed arts school in West Palm Beach, Florida, and now serves as a consultant, helping students prepare for arts programs. And she’s long been involved as a family care partner. When a drummer friend invited her to visit memory care units with him, she was eager to go; she’d been collecting instruments for years.
The experience was meaningful for all involved. Once they talked to each participant and distributed the instruments, the drummer set a beat and gradually everyone chimed in.
“We kept the flow of the energy and then we stopped and invited people to make random noise,” Renee says. “People were very expressive and eager to beat on drums, flap the clappers, and shake bells.”
Being part of rhythm and music energized and equalized everyone and built a sense of community, creativity, and connection.
- Set the tone with a drumbeat or select a CD of familiar music with a definite beat.
- Offer a choice of noisemakers. If needed, you can beat a pen on a book or put some beans in a jar to make an impromptu shaker. Or you can hit two spoons together.
- Encourage your loved one to make as much noise as possible. Do the same. There’s liberation in making noise and there’s a sense of connection sharing the same rhythm.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.