Monthly Archives: December 2013

An Alzheimer’s Holiday Blessing

As my mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed, her spiritual openness increased.

This is an excerpt from my book Love in the Land of Dementia that describes Mom’s new way of celebrating the holidays.

**

jingle bellsWe roll back into the facility’s dining room just as the show is ready to start. The singer, Thelda, kicks off her shoes and presses play on the boom box. Above the cheerful sound track, she sings Jingle Bells. She dances across the room with the remnants of ballroom steps. She stops in front of Mom and sings right to her. She gets on her knees, so she can look into Mom’s eyes, and keeps singing. Mom notices her and smiles a little.

Thelda moves on, singing to each of the patients gathered around, so intent on making a connection that she often forgets the words.

“Is it all right for your Mom to come to Christmas holiday events?” the activity director had asked me, when Mom moved into the skilled care portion of the nursing home.

“Yes, I’d like her to go to any activities. She likes the extra energy.”

challahI think Mom would approve of my decision, even though she has never celebrated Christmas. Growing up, her immigrant mother held on to the Jewish spirit of her home, kneading dough for Friday evening challah, observing each holiday and prayer period in her own way. Some orthodox women followed the religious law that commanded a small piece of the dough be burned as an offering to God. My grandmother was poor; she did not believe in burning good food, regardless of tradition. So she sacrificed a portion of the dough to her youngest daughter, my mother Fran. She created a “bread tail,” leftover dough that she baked, then smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar . When Mom used to talk about her mother, she always mentioned this special treat.

Even when I was growing up, and we were the only Jewish family in our neighborhood, my mother still did not sing Christmas song. She let the holiday rush by her, like a large train, whooshing past and leaving her behind.

Now, I am singing Christmas carols to my Mom for the first time and she is smiling. She has moved beyond the place where the religions are different, beyond the place where she wants to separate the dough and make a sacrifice for tradition. Her new tradition is anyone who can make her smile.Fran

With each song, from White Christmas, to Silver Bells, to Frosty the Snowman, Thelda moves back to Mom, tapping her, acting sillier and sillier. Each time, Mom lifts her head and widens her mouth for a second.

For her finale, Thelda puts on a big red nose and sings Rudolph. When she dances in front of Mom with that scarlet nose, Mom laughs, her face a miracle in pure enjoyment. I laugh too, so delighted to see Mom engaged and absorbed.

Two weeks from now, I will bring a menorah and candles into my mother’s room. My father and I will have a short Chanukah ceremony with Mom. She will pick at the shiny paper covering the Chanukah gelt (chocolate candy disguised as money). She will slump over in her chair. But she will come back to life when she sees me, her only daughter, wearing a big red nose as I light the menorah.menorahHere’s to a meaningful and fun holiday season.

I look forward to connecting with you when I resume blogging in early January.

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Drawing out the Inner Artist: Seven Tips for Engaging People who have Dementia

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Pablo Picasso

Sharing the arts is one of our passions. We so appreciate the insightful work of Michael Samuels, M.D., co-founder and director, Arts as a Healing Force. These are his words, which originally appeared in the Huffington Post:art

Anyone can use the healing power of art to reach a loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease. All it takes is an ordinary person who loves and cares for another. A recent article in the Boston Globe says, “Making music, painting or dancing — and seeing or hearing it — may be the most effective treatment for dementia to date.”

There has been new exciting research about art and Alzheimer’s that sheds light on this remarkable way of healing. Music and art stimulate areas of the brain not affected by Alzheimer’s and accesses memories through routes that avoid affected language centers. Art actually helps the brain navigate new neurological communication pathways. Even if the Alzheimer’s patient is unresponsive and can’t remember where they are, a song can stimulate the sweet memories of youth that lay long buried.neuro

Any art that the Alzheimer’s patient enjoys will open a huge new way of healing — for yourself and for the one you love.

TIPS:

You can do it. Professional training is not necessary; anyone can be an artist/healer for a person living with Alzheimer’s.

Keep it simple. Music is the easiest and most researched way to reach a person with Alzheimer’s but you also can use painting, sculpting and poetry. Gear your art to the person’s skill level at the moment.

kissGo into the past to heal the present. Art evokes memories. Any art that brings up a memory is powerful. A song from a past event evokes the memory of a first kiss. A painting or photograph of the family home can help evoke childhood memories.

Make it stimulating. Choose bright colors, collage from old photograph albums, lively music, dances.

Make art in a sacred space. Make the place as wonderful and beautiful as you can. Play soft music in the background — make the lighting bright enough to see easily, add scents from aroma therapy and even make a small altar with loved objects from the past.

Support with loving kindness and compassion. Make all your comments nonjudgmental and loving. Art and healing is about process, not the product. It’s all about love and relationship.

Ask them to tell you the story about the artwork. If your loved one can still speak ask them to share the memories that come with the art, music or words. art making

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, music and art can enrich the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease by allowing for self-expression and engagement even after dementia has progressed. Many organizations are using the power of art to help those living with Alzheimer’s. The Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) has an annual art contest at senior centers to encourage elderly people to stimulate their brains by making art. The I’m Still Here Foundation started Artists for Alzheimer’s initiative (ARTZ) that helps more than 10,000 Alzheimer’s and dementia patients attend arts events. This greatly enhances the lives of Alzheimer’s patients and reduces their symptoms.

Michael Samuels, M.D.Co-founder and director, Arts as a Healing Force

MICHAEL SAMUELS M.D. is a physician, artist, guided imagery specialist, and one of the foremost experts in body, mind, and spirit medicine today. He is the co-founder and director of Arts as a Healing Force. Samuels teaches at San Francisco State University’s Institute of Holistic Studies and is the author of 22 books, including the bestsellers The Well Body Book, Seeing with the Mind’s Eye, and the Well Baby Book. His latest book is HEALING WITH THE ARTS: A 12-Week Program to Heal Yourself and Your Community, co-authored by Mary Rockwood Lane, R.N., Ph.D.51ANvRyTJWL._SX258_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_

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Five Steps to Becoming an Advocate for Those Who Have Alzheimer’s: Lori La Bey Shares Her Story

Lori La Bey was sick of all the negative information about Alzheimer’s Disease.
As a family caregiver for her mom, Lori didn’t appreciate the fear that surrounded the subject. 
 
 “I wanted to talk about hope and joy and the positive aspects that empower caregivers and those who are diagnosed with the disease.”  Lori says. hope
 
Lori had a lot to share on the subject. Her mother had been dealing with dementia symptoms since the mid 1980’s and in 1996, she received a formal diagnosis of  Alzheimer’s disease. Lori, then age 37,  understood the challenges and stresses of being a working parent and a family caregiver. She understood the issues that her mom grappled with as she lived with Alzheimer’s. She also knew the feelings of joy, hope, and connection that she and her mother constantly shared. 
 
Stepping Out and Sharing
 “You have to tell your story,” friends told her. In 2009, Lori began to blog, focusing on the positive aspects of her experiences with her mom. 
 
“People were thrilled to hear the hope in my stories; they were tired of hearing all the doom and gloom,” Lori says.
 
Blogging led to speaking and speaking led her to training the staff who worked in her mom’s care facility and then to training in other care facilities, organizations and businesses. In 2011, Lori started her Internet radio program, Alzheimer’s Speaks. She recently launched a resource directory, which allows both professionals and the public to share information, and she is a leading resource in helping communities become more dementia-friendly. She has gradually eased out of her successful real estate career and has devoted herself to “Shifting Caregiving from Crisis to Comfort.”         
 
Five Foundations for Advocacy
Here are some of Lori’s tips for becoming a more effective voice for caregivers and for those who have Alzheimer’s. 
 
nameRename Yourself
Consider yourself a “Care Partner” instead of a caregiver. “Caregiver sounds like you’re giving it all away and in reality, you’re sharing,” Lori says. “When you give, you receive.” 
 
Start the Conversation
Don’t be afraid to talk about your experiences with dementia. Often, you’ll learn friends, coworkers and even strangers are dealing with the same issues. 
 
Share Your Story, Your Feelings and Your Truth
Lori knew being vulnerable when sharing her own stories and authentically expressing her moments of sadness, triumph, anger, frustration, weakness, and happiness allowed others to feel comfortable  expressing their own emotions and stories.
 “Discussing all your feelings invites deep conversations and helps you build amazing relationships,” Lori says.  “Life is not perfect and we have to stop pretending it is.” hands
 
Set Your Priorities
Give up trying to please everyone. “Focus on pleasing yourself and the person you’re caring for,” Lori advises. “Everyone else is secondary.”
 
Seek Involvement
Join a support group or start one to help others. Sign up for a dementia fund raiser, such as the Memory Walk.  Get to know people who have dementia. Start talking about the disease – share what you know. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Take dementia on as a cause.  
 
*****
lori la beyTo learn more about Lori and to hear our conversation with her click here on Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio.
For more information, please visit Lori’s website:
http://www.AlzheimersSpeaks.com   Lori La Bey, CSA, COS, AOSAD, Radio Host
Recognized by Dr. Oz and Sharecare as the #1 Influencer Online for Alzheimer’s!
651-748-4714

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Life and Death and HoHoHo

Recently I’ve been collecting inspirational quotes that remind me to make the most of every day:

“Every day is an epic journey!”   Diana Nyad, long-distance swimmer

“Play is a tool for social change,”   Jessica Matthews, Uncharted Play

Pooh“What day is it?”

It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.

“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”   A.A. Milne

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of course, one reason I’m focused on meaningful living is because I’m also thinking about dying. How do you move through this holiday season, experiencing life to the fullest, and also honoring and feeling connected with those who have died?

Here are a few ideas I have tried. I’d love to hear from you: how else do you acknowledge and honor your dead?

Mr. PeanutFeed Body and Soul

We always have some of my parents’ favorite foods. My dad particularly liked Planter’s Deluxe Nut Mix. He really 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, often leaving behind a plethora of peanuts, almonds or hazelnuts. In his honor, we repeat the ritual. Thank goodness, someone finally likes peanuts. Now all we need is a champion for the almonds.  Did you know that memorial cashews have no calories?

Share Something Tangibleblouse

I like to wear my mother’s black blouse emblazoned with silver sequins at least once during the season. When Mom wore this blouse, it signified she was going out someplace elegant.  She accompanied it with a long black skirt and high heels. When I put on my ordinary black slacks and tie up my ubiquitous 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. “A little lipstick would be nice.” That’s a lovely part of our post-death ritual: I hear my mother’s suggestions and I fondly remember her love of dressing up.

moviesHave the Conversation Anyway

A dear friend from Baltimore died this year, way before his time. He loved movies and always called to give us his review of any new films. Particularly this time of year, when we go to the cinema, we think about our friend and discuss his possible opinion of the film.  Which character would he have identified with? What would have been his favorite scene? How many stars would he have given the show?

I feel grateful that the people I love are part of my attempt to live an “epic” life.  In fact, my dad inspired me to use the George Burns quote that ends this piece. I’m thinking about Dad and his dear friend Hank, recently deceased. They might be holding drinks, a little torchy jazz music in the background. Dad might lean over to Hank and say, “You know I’m feeling a little old today. I just realized that when I was a boy, the Dead Sea was only sick.”

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Three Lessons in the Art of Love

When he was in his early eighties, my father taught me about the possible depths of  his love. I knew my parents had a fine relationship but I never realized how much my father adored my mother. There was little hint of his admiration and passion in their visible every day relationship. Only after my mother sank into Alzheimer’s did my grief-worn father reveal his immeasurable love. Oh, he didn’t talk about his feelings: he was, after all, a WWII veteran and a man raised to stoically endure for the sake of his family. But he showed me his devotion every day.

Lesson I: love steps

“Isn’t she beautiful?” he might say to me, as we sat with mom in the nursing home’s private dining room, sharing a lunch I’d brought in: my parent’s favorite broccoli soup, half a tuna fish sandwich and a brownie.

The first time he said this, Mom wore a little fleck of mayonnaise-laden tuna on her cheek and a blob of greenish soup on her bib. Her hair was greasy—she’d been resistant to taking a bath.  To me, she looked like an old crone from the fairy tales, the kind of dirty, mysterious witch who might whisper a cryptic piece of wisdom that would save your life, but who certainly wouldn’t win a beauty contest. I couldn’t yet see what my father saw.

Lesson II love and be loved

“Your mother looks so pretty in that sweater,” my father said a couple of weeks later. We were strolling the corridors of the memory care unit. Mom was shuffling along, holding each of our arms, her head bent.  My mother’s former wardrobe had gone the way of buttons and zippers and she now wore primarily sweats. I hadn’t really noticed her outfit but I stopped to look. Her pink sweatshirt echoed the blush of color in her cheeks. When she looked at me and smiled, she might have been wearing a rose chiffon evening gown: her face glowed.

Lesson III

“I’ve discovered a sure-fire way to make your mother smile,” my father said, when Mom was deep into the advanced stages.  We were seated next to Mom’s bed, watching her twist her sheet. I scooted forward, eager for my father’s insights: my usual ways of making Mom smile were failing me and I felt bereft when  she and I were unable to connect.

“Watch this,” he said and he leaned forward and gave Mom a series of light kisses on her cheek. She smiled, then she giggled, and her beauty shone so strongly that I fully understood what my father had always known: beauty is there if you’re looking with your heart.heart

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