Creating a Memorable Dementia-Friendly Movie Experience

For months, our Kansas City Movies and Memory team has been working on creating a memorable dementia-friendly movie experience and film series. Ron and I were so lucky to partner with the Heart of America Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Kansas City Public Library, and the Kansas City FilmFest. For our first offering, we wanted a short movie with a splash of fun and a heart-filled message that would engage multi-generations.  We wanted live music and free popcorn. We wanted each person to walk away with a souvenir. And we wanted to attract a diverse audience.

img_4677The Red Balloon was a wonderful success.  This ageless film, about a boy and his magical balloon, attracted one hundred people, from ages three up through the nineties. Our audience, little kids and big kids both, clustered around the popcorn machine, watching the aromatic kernels blossom. They listened to Parisian songs by a renowned clarinetist and a guitarist.  They learned a little about creating a “memory aware” city. And they laughed, smiled, sat on the edge of their seats, and clapped, all avidly involved in the movie. At the end, we walked out holding a huge bouquet of red balloons and each person was excited to take home a lovely reminder of the afternoon.

Here’s what we learned: when you’re taking photos of people holding balloons, you don’t even have to ask them to say, “Cheese.”  They’re already smiling.

Here’s the great news.

You can easily have this movie experience at home. It’s perfect for an intergenerational family gathering, a holiday event, or just a cozy evening at home.

Here are a few tips for creating a memorable movie experience:

  • Pick a time of day where everyone has good energy. Our event was held at 2:00 in the afternoon.img_4663
  • Make sure the technology is organized and everyone can see the screen.
  • Arrange for comfortable seating and minimal distractions.
  • Offer your favorite movie-going indulgences. Freshly popped popcorn is irresistible.
  • Talk about what you’re going to see.
  • If you want, stop the movie in the middle and talk about what you’ve seen. Ask open-ended questions, such as “Would you have climbed the pole to fetch the balloon?” “Why do you think the boy loved the balloon so much?” “What does this movie make you think of?”
  • At the end, talk about the movie: what you liked, what you didn’t like, and what the movie made you think about.
  • When the movie experience is complete, hand each person a helium-filled red balloon. Even a red balloon filled with hot air will do!

img_4460The Red Balloon is just one idea. Please tell us about movies or TV shows you have enjoyed watching and share your film-watching tips.

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.CITLOD very smallLove in the Land of Dementia_cover

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Bringing Home the Gravy

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rockwell thanksgivingThanksgiving changed the year I went vegetarian. I did not mind giving up the tender, moist turkey or the savory oyster-specked stuffing. But giving up the flavorful flow of mushroom-laden gravy was quite another thing. I watched enviously as my family ladled the luscious liquids over their mashed potatoes, turkey and stuffing. As I nibbled dryly on my carrots, green beans and salad, my lower lip protruded. I felt left out and deprived.

My brother, Dan, ever alert to the pouting big sister, came up with a solution.

“Next year I will make special vegetarian gravy just for you,” Dan promised.

Years later, that special vegetarian gravy has become one of my favorite Thanksgiving rituals. I begin fantasizing about it the moment the autumn leaves turn crimson. I know that in mere weeks, my brother and his family will arrive and I will have my yearly boost of family and feasting, highlighted by gravy.

When my brother calls to tell me his travel plans, I write his arrival time and GRAVY on my calendar. The night he comes to town, we make the shopping list together, avidly discussing how many pounds of mushrooms we need for both the carnivore and vegetarian pots of gravy. I relish the early-Wednesday morning trip through the grocery store, where Dan and I and our children carefully select the foods we will be making the next day. We linger in the produce aisle, filling several sacks with gleaming white mushrooms and buying rustling yellow onions. mushrooms

On Thanksgiving Day, Dan and I and other family members spend long, luxurious hours cooking. Dan mans the stove and I manage the slicing and chopping. Together we snap, peal, slice and dice the vegetables that will accessorize the turkey. I take special pleasure in wiping clean and slicing the mushrooms, then bringing my brother the brimming bowlful. When he has nodded his approval, I get out the old copper pot I bought in Germany in the early seventies. This year, Dan is improving his already amazing gravy. With his new immersion blender, he creates a rich base of caramelized onions, whose flavor surpasses that of the lowly vegetable cube. He adds in a little flour, then gentles the mushrooms into the onion broth. When the pot is bubbling with thickening nectar, he says, “Taste this and see what you think.”

I always think the same thing—“Wow, this is great.”

We are in a state of giddy and satisfied exhaustion by the time our guests arrive. We share grateful prayers with everyone and lay out the feast, including plenty of turkey-based gravy for the rest of the family.gravy

Then comes the moment I have been waiting for: I sit down, my own personal pot of gravy poised by my plate. I cover the mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, and salad with the aromatic concoction and I savor every bite. But more importantly, I savor the bounty, creativity, and love that have gone into this simple dish. Through this gravy, my brother speaks with his hands and his heart, saying: “I care about you and I am going to make sure you are not left out and that you have something fantastic to eat.”

For that and so much more, I am thankful.heart gratitude

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And now, if you’d like to bring home this delicious gravy, here’s how:

Dan Barnett’s Chicago Style  Never-Enough-Mushroom Vegetarian Gravy

Ingredients

2 large onions (chopped)

2 pounds (or more) white button mushrooms sliced (can add some portabellas for enhanced flavor)

1 cup of white wine (of lesser quality)

Salt & pepper to taste

Olive oil

Directions

To create the gravy base:

In a four -quart pot, pour a thin layer of olive oil and turn the burner on medium.

Add the onions and sauté for10-15 minutes until they are caramelized (golden brown)

Add water until the pot is about half full.

Simmer slowly for 30 minutes.

Blend the onion water mixture using either an immersion blender or by transferring the mixture to a food processor.

Once you have the gravy base

Add the 2 pounds (or more) of sliced mushrooms, white wine and fill the pot with water until it is 3/4 full.

Simmer for 30 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper.  images

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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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Dementia Friendly Holiday 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, 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 new dementia friendly holiday activities.moment-clipart-0000067

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 friendly holiday activities we could all enjoy. Plus, we made copies of the booklet to share with long distance family and friends.

Adding “traditions” enriched our family gatherings. Here are some additional ideas to cheer on your family.

  • musicCreate 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.
  • 26951-laughing-is-the-best-exerciseAdd 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

DementiaJourney.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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Chocolate Boosts Brain Health!

cocoa-powderAs the daughter of someone who lived with dementia, I do a lot of things to boost my brain health. I try to walk 10,000 steps a day, along with other exercise. I eat blueberries and broccoli. I do super brain yoga squats, try to memorize a few words of Spanish, and think about taking harmonica lessons. I try new things, laugh often, and practice drawing. But a recent study revealed that I was intuitively doing something else that was cheering on my brain, something I hadn’t even counted. It turns out Chocolate Boosts Brain Health!

I recently encountered a fascinating study on the Harvard Health website, and was intrigued when I read this headline: Cocoa: a sweet treat for the brain?

ce_0214_cocoabeanpodImagine being in Italy and contributing to scientific research by drinking a luscious dark cocoa drink every day for eight weeks. Then imagine feeling even more lucid, vibrant, and healthy after that experience. That is the essence of the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in December 2014, with this flavorful title: Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects. (Note: It turns out some of the “elderly” subjects are as young as 61, an age some of us may argue is merely “middle-age.”)

A Chocolate Boost Makes Your Brain Boast
I am also in love with this Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), of 968 people that includes these mouth-watering assertions:

All cognitive scores were significantly higher in those who consumed chocolate at least once per week, than in those who never/rarely consumed chocolate.

“More frequent chocolate consumption was significantly associated with better performance on the Global Composite score, Visual-Spatial Memory and Organization, Working Memory, Scanning and Tracking, Abstract Reasoning, and the Mini-Mental State Examination,” said the research team, which included scientists from the University of Maine.

nibsMore Delicious Cocoa-flavored News
And another study from Loma Linda University, states:
“Dark chocolate, which is 70 percent cacao, is a major source of flavonoids –- powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components that are known to be beneficial to cardiovascular health. The California team’s initial studies at Loma Linda University have shown that absorbed cacao flavonoids penetrate and accumulate in regions of the brain associated with learning and memory.”

“We are tremendously excited about what these findings could potentially mean for brain health,” said Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, who led the team. “This may open the door for potential restorative uses for individuals with memory/recall or dementia and aging-related issues.”

Never Forget To Boost Your Brainhot-cocoa-mix-012
I now have a remedy for those days when I’m too tired to exercise, too busy for a crossword, too cranky for a brain game. Or for when I simply forget. On those days, I’ll simply treat myself to a taste of the dark side. And hope it leads me towards the light.

Want to learn more?
http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/study-confirms-brain-and-memory-benefits-from-dark-chocolate/

http://www.sciencedirect.com

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cocoa

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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Paradise Lost and Found: Two Women Take Action on Alzheimer’s

Like most visitors to Bermuda, we were interested in the lush sand beaches and warm tourmaline ocean waters. But we were also imgres-1interested in meeting Liz Stewart and Marie Fay of Action on Alzheimer’s. These  two women are using their considerable energies, connections, and talents to enrich the lives of Bermudians who are living with dementia. Liz and Marie inspired us with their passion and accomplishments and we wanted you to meet them as well.

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“Now what?”

That was the question Liz Stewart asked after her mother was diagnosed with dementia. It was 2004 in Bermuda and Liz could not find any support services for herself or her mom. She was thrust into the care partner’s role without any education on the subject of dementia. Liz knew, “It’s not what you know; it’s what you can learn,” and Liz began learning fast. She soon realized she was not alone. In Bermuda, there were hundreds of people living with dementia.  Liz’s quest to help her mother turned into a determination to help others living with dementia. She formed a non-profit organization, Action on Alzheimer’s, in late 2012. She volunteers her time and works with Marie Fay, an occupational therapist with special dementia training, offering support services, education, and training throughout the islands.

13010685_10154200736871108_2201684352752478315_nLiz and Marie are a two-woman transformation team who have gathered other like-minded people.

They provide free dementia training to the island’s care communities, hospitals, doctors, and families. They collaborate with local musicians and movement specialists and host frequent expressive arts sessions, including drumming, movement, and singing. They work with government officials, advocating for those who need more resources.  And they are talking about the issues, raising consciousness through Alzheimer’s Awareness runs, wine-tasting fundraisings, and community events.

Now, when someone is diagnosed with dementia on Bermuda, they don’t have to feel totally isolated and confused. They can turn to Action on Alzheimer’s.

If you know of other people who are making a difference, please let me know. I love being inspired by the passion and compassion of world-changing souls.
To learn more about Action on Alzheimer’s, visit  www.alzbermuda.com12038228_10153700906971108_3788623937754805612_n

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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