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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The Power of the Playlist

img_3138-1Ron and I were already champions of Dan Cohen’s world-changing Music & Memory program, which is featured in Connecting in the Land of Dementia, but we had never met Dan in person. The moment we learned we were going to New York City, we reached out to Dan and he agreed to meet with us.

Dan is a prime example of one collaborative person making a difference for thousands. Eighteen states have already funded Music & Memory rollouts as a best practice approach for care facilities to improve quality of life for persons with dementia. In Toronto, everyone who is diagnosed with dementia receives a free iPod so they can enjoy personalized music. Dan and his team have trained 5000 dementia care managers, who understand how effective this program is. He is currently collaborating with hospitals, hospice, and prisons, as well as long term care communities.

Here is some of the wisdom he shared with us.

“We all need to create our personal play lists now,” Dan says. “Music makes any healthcare encounter better.  Whether you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, going into the hospital, attending rehab, or moving into a care community, you’ll have a more comfortable experience when you are able to listen to favorite songs.”

Click here to listen to Dan Cohen.

Click here to learn more about the Music and Memory program.

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

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At Long Last: A Page-Turning Love Story

2005_3_comptxMy hands trembled as I reached out my arms. For three long years I’d been working toward this meeting and yearning for this moment. Now, it was finally here. She was more beautiful than I had imagined, with a pleasing weight, just right for holding, just right for spending long hours with. From a glance, her personality seemed strong and purposeful and yet her warm, colorful exterior told me she would be easy to read.  As she gradually opened up to me, I felt her power, her accessibility, her willingness to share ideas and wisdom. She felt great; she looked great; and she was brimming with exciting new ideas. Three long years and finally, she was in my arms. I hugged her tightly. At last I was holding my new book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together

What makes this book unique? It’s the amazing people who contributed to it. During the writing process, I interviewed dozens of innovators across the globe, gathering ideas that engage the creative spirit so you can continue to experience meaningful moments throughout the dementia journey. These luminaries inspired me every step of the way and I am eager to share their ideas with you.

This book is brimming with easy projects using music, art, movies, cooking, gardening, and more. Here are some of the benefits you can look forward to when you do these activities together: Increased energy and socialization, an improved sense of purpose, reduced anxiety, and chances to express yourselves in new and meaningful ways.

Here’s even more good news about the ideas in this book. They’re adaptable for all ages and abilities, and you don’t need to have any special talents. Simply incorporate them into your daily routine and you’ll enrich your time together.

Marc Wortmann, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Disease International, called the book “A ‘must read’ for every care partner because it really helps you to look at things differently!”

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If you’re in the Kansas City area, please join us for the book launch on Sunday afternoon, October 9th, at 1:30 for a reception in the Truman Forum at the Plaza Library. The free presentation will begin at 2:00  This lively program, filled with ideas, stories, and songs,  features myself and my partner Ron Zoglin, musical luminaries Rod Fleeman and Cynthia Schroer, and guest speaker Michelle Niedens from the Heart of America Chapter, Alzheimer’s Association.

RSVP 816-701-3407 

For those of you in the Washington DC area, please join us at the free Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Caregiver’s Conference on Thursday September 29. We’ll be presenting there, along with other experts in the field. Click here to register.

We recently heard from several readers, saying, “This book is going to help so many people. I’m recommending it to my friends and colleagues.”

That’s what this is all about: enriching people’s lives through meaningful engagement.

It’s a challenge, bringing a new book into the world and we welcome your ideas and help in spreading the word about the book and the event.

You can order a copy now from Rainy Day Books, our book-seller for the event, or online.

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Here is some advanced praise:

“A thoughtful and positive guide to the very thing I find myself constantly advocating to doctors, caregivers, and family members—social stimulation and creative arts will limit the need for psychiatric medication and improve the quality of life for those with dementia more than anything else.”   Doug Wornell, MD, Life Solutions Group for Geriatric and Neurological Psychiatry

“Buy this book, read it, highlight what inspires you. As you make notes and bend pages to personalize this guide, you are creating a family treasure.” Carol Bradley Burdock, Founder of Minding Our Elders

“Deborah Shouse provides a great public service by shining light on the numerous creative activities that can meaningfully engage the minds and spirits of persons living with dementia. From personalized music to storytelling, Shouse makes it easy for caregivers to understand the various options they have to help their loved ones navigate through their everyday lives.”  Dan Cohen, MSW  Founding Executive Director, MUSIC & MEMORYsm

 

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An Insider’s Look at Connecting with Music

IMG_4301Encountering fascinating people is always a highlight of our travels. Our recent trip to New York City was dedicated to meeting innovative people in the field of creativity and dementia. I’d interviewed many of these experts for Connecting in the Land of Dementia via telephone or Skype and I was looking forward to learning from them in person.  These are the people who are changing the world and who inspire us to go out there and make our part of the world better.  In the next months, I’ll be sharing some of their wisdom with you.

IMG_4331Marlon Sobol grew up with music and understands its universal healing powers. We visited him at a care community in White Plains, NY, where he works as a full-time music therapist.  We watched in awe as Marlon worked his carefully orchestrated magic. He started with soothing tones from the marimba, moving into singing everyone’s name as a way of connecting with them. Then he played familiar songs to invite singing along. Finally, he added soundtracks of West African and Caribbean music, which inspired the staff and some of the residents to burst into dancing. In honor of our visit, Marlon played and sang, “Going to Kansas City,” which made us leap out of our chairs, sing along and dance.

Here is a tip from Marlon:

“Our names are so important. Music is a way to help people stay connected with their names. I often sing a name as a way of engaging. You can add a name to any simple tune and invite people living with dementia to sing along.”

Click on these shorts videos for other ways to incorporate music and movement into your everyday life.

The power of a name

The power of music and movement

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

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An Art Lesson in Paris

An integral part of experiencing Paris is looking at art. Chantal Debreu, a psychotherapist, serves as a volunteer and board member of the city’s Action Culturelle Alzheimer. To properly discuss the fascinating programs Chantal and her colleagues designed in collaboration with Musée d’Orsay, Musée de Cluny, and the Château de Versailles, we met at a sidewalk café over croissants and coffee.  imgres

(Note to fellow writers: It is extremely difficult to enjoy a croissant while typing on an iPad. The flakes flutter festively about the keyboard.)

 

 

Art Speaks a Universal Language

“Art is a universal language and looking at art is a wonderful way to access the creative capacities of people living with dementia,” Chantal says. “Looking at and discussing art can also at least temporarily reduce issues such as agitation, depression, apathy, and aggression.”

To facilitate such cultural connections, Chantal and Cindy Barotte, founder of Action Culturelle Alzheimer, created a three-day training program for volunteers, complete with information about dementia, case studies, and role play. Cindy developed a structure for finding meaning in works of art for volunteers and museum educators. The program connects each beneficiary with a trained volunteer who is there for five gallery visits. During the art experience, the caregiver has much-needed respite time.

“The volunteer helps people living with dementia explore their own capacities by supporting them,” Chantal says.

IMG_2035The structure encourages engagement and creative expression. To view the work of art, participants sit in a semi-circle, so they can see and hear each other. The semi-circle creates a sense of group belonging and also blocks out the public. The volunteers sit in back of their person. If the person with dementia feels shy about speaking out, they may turn and share with their volunteer. The volunteer reports the insight to the educator, who shares it with the group.

Art Breaks Ice and Inspires Ideas

The program inspires conversation and ideas. People living with dementia tend to notice the details, but they may not attach a meaning to them. Little by little, the facilitators talk through the elements of the painting, helping them associate and build meaning, so they understand the story of the painting. When they start to make associations, they talk about their experiences. They come away feeling like they are someone; they have ideas and memories to share.

“At the Centre Pompidou, we discussed Bleu, a giant Miro canvas,” says Chantal. “We talked about it for 15 minutes. Everyone was involved and actively engaged in investigating, wondering, and sharing.”

Art Travels with You

Want to bring the Paris art experience home? Here are some tips: imgres-1

  • Select a work of art to comfortably view together, either on-line, from a book, or at a local gallery.
  • As you look, ask open-ended questions, such as, “Why is that woman staring?”
  • Encourage conversation by continuing to ask engaging questions. If someone notices  a bicycle, make an affirming comment about the bicycle and ask “What else do you see?”

“It’s not about telling,” Chantal says. “It’s about asking.”

For more on the international scene, dive into my book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together.  Pre-order your signed copy.

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