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The Arts

Bring Joy to the Holidays with Dementia Friendly Family Activities

At first, the checklist of “can’t do’s” was daunting. No more playing the cutthroat card game Hearts. No more leisurely Scrabble sessions, with unabridged dictionary and bowl of fancy mixed nuts at the ready. No more hunkering in at the movie theater for a sparkling new release. With my mom’s dementia, so many of our traditional holiday activities simply wouldn’t work. So we had to think creatively and find ways to bring joy to the holidays with dementia friendly family  activities.

We created a photography/collaging/ scrapbooking project with a Thanksgiving themed story that starred all of us, The Little Kitchen that Could. I wrote up a simple story that featured a world famous chef, my brother, a series of sous chefs, the rest of the family, and my terrified pots and pans. Terrified because after a quiet life of heating up an occasional cup of water for tea, they were being forced into actual cooking. We all pasted faces on the pots and pans, posed for photos, and added ideas to the storyline. Once we developed the pictures, we sat around the dining room table and put the scrapbook together, while listening to my parent’s favorite old 40s melodies, and eating our traditional fancy mixed nuts.

This project gave our gatherings a new focus, helped us adapt treasured traditions and transition to new dementia

Adding “traditions” enriched our family gatherings.

Here are some additional ideas to cheer on your family.

  • Create a holiday play list to cheer you all on. If you’re prone to winter blues, include songs that brighten your spirits. If you don’t celebrate the holiday, use favorite winter or seasonal songs. Listen to these songs with your partner who has dementia and with family and friends.
  • Create a large print sing-along book for seasonal songfests. Include family favorites, personal seasonal tunes, and other tunes that are fun to sing or hum to.
  • Invite talented relatives or friends to share their musical or dance abilities.
  • If your partner likes animals, invite well behaved pets to come to your gatherings, offering a creature to nurture and observe and admire.
  • Create a family “giving back” project you can all be part of, so your partner is able to contribute to others. This can be as simple as icing cookies for a women’s shelter or making dog biscuits for an animal shelter.
  • Share favorite poems, by reading them call-and- response, one person reading, “T’was the night before Christmas,” and others repeating the line. Create your own family poem, as something to include in your holiday card or on your social media.
  • Add in laughter. Use the ha ha chorus, substituting “ha ha’s” for the words of favorite songs. You’ll find yourself chucking within seconds.
  • Arrange flowers together for a centerpiece, paying attention to colors, textures and aromas. Set the table together.
  • Play favorite music and talk about it, saying, “What does that song remind you of?”
  • Create a Taste Book, a scrapbook of favored recipes and memories around these foods. Plan to make or bake a recipe or two together.

Several esteemed experts and organizations helped me create this list of dementia friendly holiday activities. For more information about their, visit:

Natasha Goldstein-Levitas, MA, BC-DMT   natashagoldstein.com

Dan Cohen  Music and Memory

Gary Glazner  Alzheimer’s Poetry Project

Dr. Madan Kataria  Laughter Yoga

The team at the  Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

Nettie Harper and Kelly Gilligan  Inspired Memory Care, Inc.

Judith Fertig, novelist and cookbook author  Judith Fertig

 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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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Silent Films Inspire Peals of Laughter at KC Movies & Memories

There is something wonderfully connective about watching silent comedies by two of the world’s greats—Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton. Those black and white classics make you want to laugh, reminisce, and act a little silly yourself. And when there’s a pianist on hand, punctuating the wit and melodrama, the experience is even more compelling. Those silent films inspired peals of laughter at August’s KC Movies & Memories at the Plaza Library.

First, our guest musician, Kenny Harrison, engaged us in a lively sing-a-long. Then we watched One Week, a Buster Keaton masterpiece. Thomas Cooke is a retired professor of film. He and his wife Deborah spent hours previewing the iconic comedians, picking out three clips just for our program. For anyone who has ever tried to repair or build anything, this short film is a must. Next, Charlie Chaplain entertained us with Oceana Roll. “Charlie’s friends wanted him to do the roll dance every time he dined with them,” Thomas told us. Finally, we were on the edges of our seats with a clip from Modern Times. Note: Roller skate indoors at your own peril. 

Click here to enjoy some moments from this entertaining event.

In between films, we talked about the movies and how we related to them. One of our guests was a carpenter. Others had experiences with home repairs. We all marveled when Thomas told us that Keaton did all his own stunts. 

The movies stayed on our minds for several days. In fact, at dinner two nights later, we tried with Oceana fork dance with cucumbers.  (Where are the dinner rolls when you need them?) It was a lot harder than it looked. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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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Quixotic Brings Magic and Music to KC Memory Cafe

Will we ever be too old to enjoy balloon animals? we’ve often wondered. After seeing Quixotic bring magic and music to KC Memory Cafe, our answer is a resounding, “No!” Along with 90 other guests, we were on the edge of our chairs, watching balloon maestro David Brenn transform simple balloons into pooches, butterflies, eyeglasses, and flowers. The crowd raised their hands, trying to catch the colorful flying balloons.  They laughed at the little dog that could instantly turn into a poodle and applauded at the balloon jetpack.

The music was mesmerizing, a delightful intertwining of violin and cello notes, accented by a graceful dancer and an enthralling singer. Everyone swayed to the sounds of an Irish jig, hummed along with Fly Me to the Moon and The Girl from Ipanema, and watched the balloons fly during Cheek to Cheek.

Beyond the fantastic talent of the performers was their warmth and caring. They created this low sensory, dementia friendly program and they were so happy to be sharing their gifts with us. And we were totally wowed!

Click here to experience the magic for yourself.

 

And visit Quixotic’s website to learn more about their upcoming public performances. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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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 Using Nature to Connect with Creativity and Generations: KC Memory Cafe

The tables are scattered with pine cones, sycamore leaves, and decorative branches, along with bottles of glue, vivid construction paper, and pots of colorful paint. Our KC Memory Cafe begins with sharing memories of camping, scouting, or outdoor activities. Then a lively group of Girl Scouts leads us in song, reminding us to, “Make new friends, But keep the old, One is silver, And the other gold.” 

After our singalong, cafe guests experiment with the art supplies and natural objects. They dip pine cones into red paint and brush blue across crusty leaves. They paint a stick bright orange and wrap it with yarn. The Girl Scouts weave through the artists, pouring extra paint, distributing additional papers, and assisting when asked. The guests work, admire, chat, and laugh as these creative projects emerge. By the end of the cafe, the tables are covered with innovative art and people are smiling as they return home. 

Click here for a look at our cafe.

 

Want to introduce more nature into your lives?

“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,” says Garuth Chalfont PhD, American Society of Landscape Architects, and author of the. Dementia Green Care Handbook.       

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. 

Here are a few other ideas:

• Create observation spots in your living space so you can enjoy looking outdoors. Even watching the weather helps people feel engaged in the natural environment.

• Improve your view with interesting additions, such as bird feeders and birdhouses, bubbling fountains, wind chimes, wind spinners, outdoor sculpture, and various plants and herbs. 

• Add resilient plants to your home.

• Bring in natural objects to touch, identify, arrange, draw and craft with. 

• Visit garden centers, parks, playgrounds, and zoos for a rich natural experience.

• Increase your popularity by taking a dog with you on a walk, either your own or borrow your neighbor’s pup. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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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Huzzah! RenFest Stars Present at KC Memory Cafe

A wizard, a peasant, a royal hat maker, and a royal candy maker walked into the Plaza Library. But they were not here to check out books on their respective trades: they were with several other RenFest stars, eager to present at the KC Memory Cafe. 

Mia Moore shared the inside story of getting into her complicated costume as the Renfest character of Molly William, Lady Steward of the Household. First, she slipped on a gauzy white under-blouse with an appealing ruff around the neck. Then, she created a luscious hour-glass shape by putting on a corset. In the olden days, the corsets were made with whale bones. But Mia was ecologically correct and chose industrial cables for hers. A wide brown skirt, made of upholstery materials, was next, followed by a lady’s doublet, with dozens of small fabric covered buttons. Getting all buttoned up took at least ten minutes, and she kept us quite entertained throughout the process. Her final adornment was a jaunty hat.

Click here to get the RenFest inside story.

“It wouldn’t be proper to go around with my hair uncovered. Plus, during the Renaissance, people didn’t bathe that often. Their hair might be dirty and lice-ridden, which the hat kindly covered,” she told us.

As each of the performers shared information about their characters, we could feel their passion for history and for this fascinating time period. 

The wizard assured us, he would never walk about London with his high pointed burlap hat and his quartz-topped staff; for that, he would have been locked up in a mental hospital. Instead, he would have lived in a rural setting and been considered an alchemist. The peasant told us, “The amount of cloth in a middle class woman’s skirt would be enough for me and my family for a year.”  

Cloth was quite valuable and all fabrics were recycled and passed down, mended and amended until they were nothing but scraps. 

How often does a person have a chance to touch an ostrich feather fan or stroke the soft pink velvet of the royal candy maker’s doublet? Our performers walked about the room, greeting individuals, sharing stories about their characters and clothing, and letting us examine their specially made costumes.

It was a glorious experience, rich with history, energy, and imagination.

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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 Beat Goes on at KC Memory Cafe

“Drumming ultimately has therapeutic value, providing the emotional and physical benefits collectively known as “drummer’s high,” an endorphin rush that can only be stimulated by playing music, not simply listening to it. …The endorphin-filled act of drumming increases positive emotions and leads people to work together in a more cooperative fashion.”                            The Neuroscience of Drumming

 

 

 

Want to experience your own drummer’s high?

Click here and tap along to the beat.

The beat goes on at KC Memory Cafe. Brandon Draper of Drum Safari reminds us how connected we all are by tapping his hand on the table. “No matter where we come from, we all share this internal rhythm, our heartbeat,” he tells us. We tap along with him, and follow his lead as he introduces other more complex beats. Ninety of us are gathered on the lower level of the Plaza Library to experience the magic of drumming, guided by Brandon, his wife, and two daughters. He introduces us to ancient drums and to contemporary instruments. After our briefing in the powerful history of drumming, we all have an opportunity to experience the “drummer’s high.” 

The excitement and energy in the room builds as we all make music together. We are laughing, banging away, singing call and response, and thoroughly engaged in creating cooperative sounds.

People lingered for a long time afterwards, drawn together by the shared experience. 

Though Brandon has shared his drumming skills many times, performing at the KC Memory Care touched him deeply.  He was thinking of his beloved grandmother, who had lived with dementia. He stayed connected with her through music. “To be here, sharing with all of you, meant so much to me,” he told us.

Our thanks to the wonderful team from Santa Marta Retirement Center, who nourished us with delicious snacks and helped serve everyone. Thanks also to Pam and Beverly, who helped nurture, serve, encourage and keep the beat going on.  Want to volunteer or get on our email list? Just contact Heather Harrison, heatherharrison@kclibrary.org 816-701-3763

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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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Some Enchanted Beautiful Morning: Movies & Memories Celebrates Inclusion

The buzz of conversation ceased as singer/actor Robert Gibby Brand stepped up to the microphone. His accompanist, pianist Robert Pherigo, played the opening bars of Oh, What a Beautiful Morning and Brand soared into the “Bright golden haze on the meadow.” Instantly the audience, ages two to 85 plus, was listening raptly. Brand continued his concert, inviting us to sing along on It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, and melting us with the Cole Porter classic Night and Day. Brand told us the story behind each song and left us wildly applauding after performing Some Enchanted Evening.  It was some enchanted beautiful morning at the monthly KC Movies & Memories program. 

But the enchantment didn’t stop there. First we watched the Oscar nominated short, Room on the Broom, which illustrated the joys and challenges of inclusion in a most creative, playful, and poignant way. 

One of the characters said plaintively, “I am a bird, as green as can be. Is there room on the broom, for a bird like me?” The witch’s clingy cat captured that part in most of us that doesn’t want to share, that believes there is not enough. But the witch reminded us, “Yes, there is room.”

Afterwards we discussed the movie, asking who identified with the clingy cat. All of us had to raise our hands. Then we asked who identified with the witch, who welcomed everyone, and there was a large showing of hands.  We also talked about favorite characters and what parts of the film we liked best.  

 

 

To finish our mini film-fest, we played an inspiring clip from a Mr. Rogers show, and showed Purl, an 8-minute Pixar film, about how our differences can enrich our lives. 

It was an inspiring program and everyone left uplifted and delightfully sated by our fresh-made popcorn and other treats.

For a taste of Some Enchanted Beautiful Morning, click here. 

A big thanks to our volunteers, Sharon, Julie, and Pam, and to our generous hosts, The Plaza Library.  

Want to continue the magic at home?

Room on the Broom is a 20-minute  film that is fun for all ages, while being both entertaining and profound. You can easily generate open-ended questions and invite comments and conversation. We talked about, “If you were an animal, which animal would you like to be?” “Who did you identify with?” “What were your favorite parts of the movie?” “Have you ever not wanted to share?”

Want to continue the magic with us?  Mark your calendars for the first Wednesday of each month at 10:30. Please join us for our next cafe and our next movie program.  For more information, contact Deborah at creativity@pobox.com 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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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Musing Together: Looking at Art  Expands Skills, Increases Socialization, and Widens Horizons

The group pauses in front of a large contemporary sculpture, depicting a preacher standing before his congregation at a small country church.  They walk around the piece, noticing the pews, the organist, and the variety of parishioners, and chatting as they view. Then they settle into chairs and co-facilitator Esther Smith asks: “What is one word that comes to mind when you look at this piece of art.”

 

“Boring,’ says one woman.

“What makes it boring?” Esther asks.

“It brings me back to my childhood, when I was stuck in church for hours,” she answers. “I was so bored.”

A few others nod. Someone asks, “When was this made? Where is it from?” and the conversation about the art continues.

Every month at the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, Teaching Artist Esther Smith guides a group of care partners and people living with dementia on a 90-minute gallery exploration called Musings Together. 

“It’s a light-hearted, interactive experience,” Esther says. “We go at a slow pace, seeing only three to four works each time. We want people to have a comfortable, personalized experience with art.”

The open-ended conversation brings out people’s stories and ideas. Sitting in front of Giovanni Bellini’s Madona and Child, Esther asks, “What lines do you notice in this painting? Trace them in the air with your hand.”

After people trace their lines, she asks, “What line was most interesting to you?” That question might lead into a discussion of what makes this painting different. Then Esther might invite the group to pose like the picture. She might say, “How would that baby’s head feel in your hand?”

“These simple prompts launch us into deep conversations,” Esther says. She and her team are experimenting with expanding the sensory experience, including bringing out oranges when they’re gazing at a still life of fruit and letting each guest hold and examine the orange. Esther also invites people to occasionally sketch an aspect of a drawing that appeals to them, using a drawing pad on a clipboard. 

“ A number of our participants have never been regular museum-goers. Now they feel comfortable here and come more often,” Esther says. “Developing a new community of friends and an expanding interest in art enriches their lives.”    #

Want to look at art with someone who is living with dementia?

If you’re visiting a museum, focus on a gallery with 3-4 large and interesting pieces. Ask a docent for advice, if needed. If you’re at home, give yourself plenty to time to comfortably view a few works of art on-line or in books. 

  • Bring a folding chair, so you can sit.
  • Chose a time of day when your partner is energetic and the gallery is relatively quiet.
  • Have fun just noticing the aspects of the piece. You might invite comments on colors, textures, familiar figures, objects that seem odd to you, and other aspects. 
  • Ask open-ended questions, such as, “What does this piece make you think of?” “What do you like about this piece?” “How do you think that main guy feels?” 

When attention wanes, move onto something else, including a lovely coffee or tea break.   

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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 Dream Came True at The Red Ballon Movies & Memories

“I wish I had a red balloon,” one of our guests said, after the inspiring ending of the short film, The Red Balloon. Moments later, the dream came true. Each guest was offered a buoyant scarlet balloon, the magical symbol of a meaningful film.

The Movies & Memories program now has a new time and date: the first Wednesday of each month from 10:30-12:00. 

        

 

 

As guests enter the lower level of the Plaza Library, they breathe in the enticing aroma of fresh popcorn. Soon, they are settled in comfortable chairs and munching on popcorn and cookies, while being serenaded.  They sing along with Richelle Basgall, who engages them with fiddle, guitar, kazoo, and more. They tap their feet and clap their hands, belting out favorite folk songs and old standards, such as  Ol’ Suzanna, Que Sera Sera,  and I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.

Then the lights lower and everyone watches intently as a young boy and his red balloon form a deep bond, and stick together, despite many obstacles.  People were still talking about the movie as they and their balloons trail down the hallway, heading towards home.

Get a taste of The Red Balloon movie event by clicking here. 

 

Many thanks to our wonderful volunteers, including Sharon, Julie, and Pam. And special thanks to Sharon and Elizabeth from Stonecrest for bringing delicious snacks for us.

Our next movie experience is on July 3rd. Please join us for Room on the Broom, and other short films, a celebration of diversity.  You’ll love the songs from Robert Gibby Brand, our featured musician. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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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Rock Around the Library: Celebrating a Year of KC Memory Cafes

No one can sit still. Not when Little Richard, The Archies, or Dion are singing. It’s a Rock Around the Library: Celebrating a Year of the KC Memory Cafes. We are one-year-old this March and we’re celebrating with Musical Bingo by Carrieoke Productions. We’ve enjoyed ice cream and cake and we’re ready to roll, rock and roll, that is.

At the first note, one of our guest says, “Sugar, Sugar.” She’s right and a small group of us sings the literally saccharine lyrics, “Sugar, ahh honey, honey, you are my candy girl…”

Within moments, all the care partners are dancing. We’re all helping each other find the songs on our Bingo sheets. We’re singing along when we know the lyrics and humming along when we don’t.  We’re laughing. 

When Carrie plays the Beach Boys’ tune, I Get Around, one guest says, “I wish I could get around.” Another chimes in, “Me too!”

For an hour, we Twist and Shout, warble Do You Want to Dance?, warn our neighbors not to “step on my Blue Suede Shoes,” and shake our heads over Run Around Sue. Those who win at musical bingo, and there are many of them, get to select a prize.

“It’s wonderful to see people blooming,” one care professional says.

And it’s equally wonderful to see the caregivers laughing, joking, dancing, encouraging, sharing, and helping us create This Magic Moment.                                                    

 Click here to join the party:  

Don’t miss our Magic Moment in April. The Kansas City Zoo is bringing some exotic and personable animals on April 16th. 

Please join us at 10:30 on the lower level of the Plaza Library. Come early. Please share this information with anyone who might benefit.

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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