Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

Father’s Day Tips: Four Fabulous Ways to Celebrate When Dad has Dementia

“Dad always liked a big Father’s Day celebration,” my friend told me. “But now he’s deep into dementia; I’m not sure he would notice.” When Ron’s dad Frank relaxed into dementia, Ron and I often struggled with how to approach Father’s Day. Even though Frank didn’t know what day it was, we still wanted to honor Frank as a father. Here are four fabulous ways to celebrate when Dad has dementia.

Reminiscing over Favorite Foods

We brought in a meal created from some of Franks’ current favorites and some gems from the past. Frank’s wife Mollie made her world-famous brownies and legendary rice pilaf.  We bought cooked steaks and baked potatoes and as we ate, we talked about meals past. Inspired by the familiar tastes, smells and textures, Frank recited one of this favored old phrases: “I’m cool to other women but I’m hot tamale (Hot to Mollie.)”

Naming His Tunes

Frank and Mollie liked to dance occasionally and for one celebration, we printed out song lyrics and sang Frank and Mollie some of their old favorites. We didn’t sound like Sinatra or Fitzgerald as we warbled “It Had to be You,” or “Stardust” or “Three Coins in the Fountain” but we did sound sincere!

Life Stories

Ron and I created a HERO Project for Frank, a story-scrap book that incorporated highlights and photos from Frank’s life, along with a meaningful storyline. We also created one for Mollie. We read the HERO Projects with Frank and Mollie, using the stories as conversational catalysts. Frank enjoyed the experience; we enjoyed reading aloud with Frank and remembering shared experiences.

Celebrating Special Qualities and Life Lessons

As we sat together, we talked about some of Frank’s many stellar qualities, which included his easy-going nature, his natural charm, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his willingness to try new things. “Did I really do that?” Frank asked, as Ron described the bowling alley Frank and his brother owned and operated.  “You did,” Ron said.“That was really something,” Frank said.

Frank’s comment summed up our Father’s Day celebration: it was really something. Just being together was wonderful. And taking time to really celebrate Frank with a tender mixture of food, photos, stories, and conversation was pure magic.

For more ideas on Naming His Tunes, please visit the exciting MusicandMemory.org

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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Celebrating our Mothers 

If my mother were still alive, I would be taking her roses and chocolate this Mother’s Day. She would be delighted and her delight would magnify when my daughters and her great-grandchildren arrived. Love is such a beautiful glue, such a simple and strong way to stay connected. I wanted to share this story from Love in the Land of Dementia, as a way of celebrating our mothers.

 The Woman She Was

My friend Karen gives me a gift: she says, “Tell me about your mother.”

We are sitting in a quiet mid-afternoon café and I let the question sink into me.

When friends occasionally ask me, “How is your mother doing?” I have different answers, depending on the situation. If we are in one of those conversations that are like confetti in brisk wind, I say, “She’s okay.”

If we are sitting across from each other and my friend is looking right at me, I answer, “She’s pretty deep into Alzheimer’s.”

“Does she recognize you?” she might ask.

“No, but she may recognize I am a person she likes,” I answer.

That usually ends that conversation.

But “Tell me about your mother,” is an invitation I don’t usually get.

“What would you like to know?” I ask.

She stirs her iced mocha. “Whatever you want to tell me,” she says softly. “I would like to know about her life and her interests.”

Since my mother has been in the nursing home with Alzheimer’s, I have seldom talked about the person she used to be. Occasionally my father and I reminisce about family vacations and outings. I sometimes ask Dad questions about our growing up days and the early days of their courtship. But I rarely think about the woman I knew all my life, the mother, grandmother, artist, gardener, compassionate friend, avid reader, bird-watcher, early morning walker, lemon-meringue pie baker. That woman is gone and I have spent a lot of energy learning to know and appreciate the woman who now commandeers her body.

As I consider what I want to tell Karen, I remember visiting my mom’s best friend, Bel, in California when I was a teenager. Bel, who was spunky and adventurous in a way that seemed so different from my conservative mother, drove me from Berkeley to the small resort where I would work as a chambermaid for the summer.

“Do you know how I met your mom?” she asked me, as we drove down the winding roads, past fragrant stands of eucalyptus trees.

“In Iceland, during the World War II,” I said. I had heard stories of the two of them taking a break from their work in the hospital by skiing, then stopping for a soak in a hot springs.

“No, we met earlier in Chicago. We were both nurses working the twelve-hour night shift. The hospital had a room with a couple of bunk beds so we could rest on breaks. One night I walked in there and heard the most heart-breaking sobbing. It was Frances, crying her eyes out. I asked her what was wrong and she said, ‘Nothing.’”

I smiled. That sounded like Mom, never wanting to admit anything was wrong.

“Then I asked her again and she sobbed out that her husband Sam had died six months ago from pneumonia. She was so sad she didn’t know if she could go on. A bunch of other nurses and I were going to Florida for a short vacation and I persuaded your mother to join us. But as it turned out, we never went; a week later I decided to join the Army and I encouraged her to come along. We’ve been best friends ever since.”

When I heard this story at the age of seventeen, I was too young to fathom my mother’s grief and despair. By the time I told Karen the story, I had some sense of what my mother must have gone through.

“Your Mom was really brave, to serve in the Army during wartime,” Karen says.

I feel a little swell of pride. Mom’s tales of traveling in the darkest night on the troop ship, with bombs falling nearby, were so familiar I had never considered her bravery and courage.

Now I tell Karen how my father, encouraged by Bel’s husband, wrote Mom a letter, telling her he was ready to marry a nice Jewish girl. Was she interested? Was she available?

After some correspondence, Mom surprised herself by agreeing to meet him in Chicago. At the end of the week, my father asked her to marry him. She considered the offer for three weeks and accepted. Their whirlwind romance was fueled by practicality.

“What a great story,” Karen says. “Your mother must be an amazing woman.”

Sparked by Karen’s interest, I let myself feel my love for my mother as she used to be. I am in tears by the time our conversation ends.

“Thank you for asking me about my mother,” I say to Karen.

“Your stories make me want to call my own mom and hear her stories again.”

As I drive home, I think of more “mom” stories to share with my children and my brother. I see myself, along with my brother and father, as the carrier of my mother’s sacred legacy. I imagine myself tenderly fanning the embers, adding dry leaves and crumbled paper, creating a blaze with each memory. I realize I don’t have to give up Mom’s old self: I can be her historian and her scribe, carrying her stories with me, and making sure they live on.

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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7 Tips for Reducing Caregiver Isolation

Some years ago, when my mom was diagnosed with dementia, I didn’t know anyone else who was going through this journey. I felt very alone, even though I had a beautiful network of friends. I turned to writing to help me make sense of the situation. Eventually, I gathered the courage to share my personal essays with others, often through simply reading my stories aloud to friends and family. Being able to share my thoughts and feelings on this deeply meaningful dementia experience was so therapeutic, and it inspired me to reach out to other caregivers. Through my years as a family caregiver and through interviewing dozens of caregivers and experts in the field of dementia, I gleaned these 7 tips for reducing caregiver isolation.

Listening

When my friend Karen asked me to tell her more about my mom’s life, I was thrilled. I had been so immersed in my caregiving responsibilities, I had forgotten Mom’s fascinating adventures as a nurse in WWII, her worldwide travels, and more. Simply asking questions about the person who is living with dementia and listening avidly to the stories is a gift to the caregiver.

Visiting

“Your mother is so interesting,” my friend Jane said. Jane had offered to simply come to my house and have a short visit with me and Mom.  My mother was going through a period of repetition and I had heard her tale of the natural hot springs in Iceland at least 113 times. But watching Jane lean forward, ask cogent questions, and smile at Mom allowed me to appreciate Mom’s stories in a new way. These were cornerstones in my mother’s life and Jane’s interest reminded me what treasures they were.

Enriching

Mom had been a vibrant movie-goer, an avid opera lover, and an ardent museum enthusiast. But when she could no longer go out, I loved it when people offered to bring arts, culture, and the occasional dog, to us. Studies show that even indirect contact with animals reduces stress. Visits from small dogs and cuddly babies boosted both our spirits and helped us feel connected with our community.

Bringing over an art book and gazing at favorite painters together invited out the creative spirit and were a catalyst for open-ended conversation. Singing and playing music with others stirred up positive memories and filled us with happiness and well-being.

Exercising

So often, caregivers forget the power of fresh air and exercise. They forget the joy of sunshine and trees.  When they don’t have the steam to set out on their own, offering to take them on a stroll, a run, to a yoga class, or just to sit on a bench in a park, can offer moments of connection and renewal.

Noticing 

“What can I do for you?” my life-partner often asked. Frequently, I was so overwhelmed I had no answer. So he asked me concrete questions. “Do you need any errands run?” “Would you like me to make dinner?” “Are there phone calls I can help you make? Grocery shopping I can do?” Offering to do simple tasks helped me understand I did not have to soldier through this alone. Help was all around me and one of my spiritual journeys was learning how to receive it.


Inviting

It’s not always easy to stay connected with friends who are living with dementia and their caregivers, but it is so worth it. Even when my mother felt lost at social gatherings, she still enjoyed the energy of being around empathetic friends. Even when she didn’t understand every speck of conversation, she relished being around others and meeting new people. So did my father and so did I. Having friends reach out with invitations reminded us we were still part of our community.

Asking

Sometimes we don’t know what to say to our friends who are caregivers for those living with dementia. We don’t know what to do. Then it’s time to simply state the truth and tell them, “I want to be there for you, to understand what you’re going through. I want to support you, and I don’t quite know how to do it. Can you guide me?”
Chances are the answer will be a warm hug and a resounding, “Yes.”

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, https://www.facebook.com/pg/Anne-Vize-Writing-Services-126820110730385/posts/?ref=page_internal

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

https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Moment-Activities-Stories-Dementia-ebook/dp/B073RPNFXZ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1501074110&sr=1-

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

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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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Four Fine Ways to Keep Remembrances Blooming

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day  or Father’s Day when your parents are no longer living? As the day approaches, I think of my parents and look for ways to keep remembrances blooming. During the years, I’ve explored ways to feel close with my mother, father, and other loved ones who have passed on. Here are four of the actions that keep me connected.

Dress to Connect

When I feel lonely for Mom, I like to put on her black blouse emblazoned with silver sequins. When Mom wore this blouse, it signified she was going someplace elegant.  She accompanied it with a long black skirt and high heels. When I put on my ordinary black slacks and black tennis shoes, I imagine my mother shaking her head. “Don’t you have any better shoes, dear?” My mother prods me from beyond the grave, intoning,  “A little lipstick would be nice.” Here’s the lovely part of our post-death ritual: instead of bristling at her grooming suggestions, I see how she wished the best for me and fondly remember her love of dressing up.

Feed your Memories

I still love to eat and share my parents’ favorite foods. My brother, who has untold culinary abilities, has mastered Mom’s butterscotch brownies and he has improved on her chocolate chip cookie recipe. He often bakes those for family gatherings and sometimes even mails me a box of nostalgic homemade treats.  As for my dad, he particularly liked Planter’s Deluxe Nut Mix. He adored the cashews, but he didn’t want to spend the money to upgrade to all cashews. He preferred to pick out the deliciously rare morsels, leaving behind a plethora of peanuts, almonds, and hazelnuts. In his honor, I often buy a can of mixed nuts. Did you know that memorial cashews have no calories?

Tell their Stories

We all have heirloom family stories that anchor us in our history. My father liked to talk about his growing up days in the Canal Zone, in Colon, Panama.  My mother favored her time serving as an Army nurse in Iceland during World War II. These were the stories of my growing up years and I think of them every time someone talks about Iceland, Panama, the Canal, or WWII. I have written some of them down so I won’t forget them. When I tell one of my parents’ stories, I feel they are in the room, leaning forward, smiling, and listening with delight. I like to share these tales at family gatherings and I like to tell them to friends. I also like to invite other people’s legendary stories.

Continue the Conversation

Sometimes I go on a solitary walk and talk to my mother. She loved birds and I point out the robins, cardinals, and sparrows on the route. I also tell her about my grandchildren, my work, and I discuss any dilemmas I’m struggling with.  My father loved being in the water and I often commune with Dad when I’m swimming backstroke. I tell him entertaining things that are going on and talk to him about my dreams and big ideas. My parents are still good listeners and I picture them nodding proudly and cheering me on.

A version of this article originally appeared on MariaShriver.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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An Insider’s Look at True Love: Charlie and Elizabeth’s Story

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

**

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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Five Ways to Make Valentine’s Day Special for a Loved One with Dementia

candlelight dinnerMy parents liked to celebrate Valentine’s Day with dinner and dancing.  Years into my mom’s Alzheimer’s journey, my parents’ love hadn’t diminished, but my mom’s capacity for going out to dinner and dancing had drastically decreased. I saw how blue my father was—one more event he had to give up, one more change in the woman he loved—and I searched for alternatives that might cheer him up. Here are five ways to make Valentine’s Day special.

Look for a favorite thing. Seek one simple pleasure your loved one might enjoy. Mom loved potato soup and chocolate and fresh strawberries. These were part of our celebration.

Nurture yourself: include your own favorite thing. Bring yourself into the celebration and include something that makes you happy. I brought foods my father and I both liked as part of our little party.chocolate strawberries

Pick several ways to express your love.  Poetry, music, gifts, flowers, and photo albums—you can use any of these resources as a catalyst to talk about your feelings. Dad and I sang Mom old show tunes and love songs, music she really enjoyed. Mom adored Shakespeare; we had a couple of sonnets on hand.  She and Dad had once created a beautiful flower garden; Dad brought her a single red rose.

Take joy in the simple act of expressing yourself. Being with my mom was a chance to really practice the mythical “unconditional love.” Mom couldn’t tell me she loved me. During one Valentine’s Day celebration, she fell asleep while I was holding her hand and talking sweetly to her. But there was a comfort in expressing my love and I kept on talking.

Celebrate love in all its glorious guises. During their long marriage, my father had walked into a room millions of times and often, Mom had been busy and hadn’t particularly smiled or remarked. But with her dementia came a deep dependency on Dad. When Dad walked into a room, my mother’s face lit up. My father basked in that light. The sparkle in my mother’s eyes was the new, “I love you, darling.”  The light said everything my mother could no longer say.rose

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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Orchestrating a Musical Conversation

imagesWhen Ron’s dad was living in a memory care unit, Ron and I talked with the residents and their families, learning about their favorite songs. We orchestrated a sing-along and had fun working with everyone and putting together a scrapbook of each resident’s special tunes. The combination of music and conversation created a sense of community for us all. Julian West, who we met on a recent trip to London, is creating community through engaging people in music and dance. We really love the way he weaves the two art forms  together and wanted to share his easy and adaptable ideas with you.

Julian West had no idea what would happen at the care facility, but he trusted it would be something wonderful. An accomplished oboist and a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, Julian assembled a violist, a composer, a dancer, and an artist to share energy and their art with people who are living with dementia.

“This was an experiment to see what could happen,” Julian says. “We worked completely improvisationally.”

percussionOnce a week, for eight weeks, the troupe came to the residential care home and created a living arts experience with residents and staff. They began by inviting everyone to choose a percussion instrument, such as rain sticks, bells, shakers, tambourine, etc.

“We had a musical conversation,” Julian says. “One person made a sound and another answered. We also chatted a lot. People commented on the music or expressed an emotion or impression.”

The musicians added their instruments and the staff and residents joined in, through percussion and voice.  They made fascinating sounds, like an improv jazz singer might do. The dancer twirled around in the center of their circle. Her free movements gave the group a focal point and inspired others to explore various movements.

“I let go of preconceptions and tried to create an open atmosphere,” Julian says.

The artists’ openness helped the “conversation” grow and blossom.

imgresOne woman who was living with dementia held up a tambourine, keeping it still and gazing at it as though it were a beautiful and revered object.

Julian’s first thought was, “She doesn’t know it’s a musical instrument”.

“I let that thought go,” he says. “I saw how expressive she was. Her interaction with the tambourine was beautiful and profound and she allowed us all to see the instrument differently.”

Even if you don’t have your own musicians and dancers at home, you can still create this supportive and creative atmosphere.

  • Share a few percussion instruments, put on some music you both like, and make some joyful noises. Experiment with bee-bop syllables to add a sense of freedom.
  • After the song, talk about the experience, what you liked, what you felt, and any other impressions that came up.
  • Consider inviting a “guest dancer,” someone who likes to move to music, or a child of a friend who’s taking dancing lessons. Go ahead and add your own moves.
  • Invite friends and family to join you. You’ll have something to laugh, and sing, and talk about.

For more information about Julian’s work, visit: www.julianwest.co.uk

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

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

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