Monthly Archives: September 2014

Eight Wonderful Ways to Heighten Your Caregiving Experience

Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.                                                                      — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe


How do we appreciate our lives as a care partner when we’re worn, torn and forlorn? How do we feel our creative spark when we don’t have time or energy for our usual forms of renewal?

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing some leading creative caregivers for an article on Conscious Caregiving for Natural Awakenings. Click here to read this article.

I’ve also found inspiration on the blog, where Leo Babauta offers great ideas for making the most of life. Leo generously shares his wisdom with anyone who wants to learn from and with him. Here are two of my favorite shots of his inspiration.

Treat an activity like a sacred ritual

Every single thing we do can be done as an afterthought, or it can be elevated to something sacred.

Washing your hands? Take a moment to realize how much of a miracle this act is (many people don’t have water for basic hygiene), take a breath, and truly pay attention as you go through this sacred hand-washing ritual.     washing hands

Do your dishes the same way: every dish a miracle, every sensation elevated to a new importance, every drop of water a gem worth paying attention to.

This applies to every activity: caregiving, writing, responding to an email, listening to a friend, playing with your child, taking a shower, going for a walk, paying bills. Worthy of your full attention, worthy of joy and appreciation.

Your Intention Creates Your Greatness

Start by admitting that greatness comes from making a difference in the world.

Being an example of compassion is one way you can make a difference.

It doesn’t matter if you achieve the result you set out to achieve — you can’t control the result, but you can control your intention. And you can show up, every day with that intention.

Carve out the time. Put aside everything else. Realize that life is limited and precious and amazing, and you shouldn’t waste a minute of it.

compassionPursue this compassionate work with single-minded devotion. This one thing matters, and all else can be put aside for now, unless it’s in support of your work. (Good health supports your work, including a whole-foods diet, exercise, and sleep.)

This compassionate work, with good-hearted intention, pursued with single-minded devotion: this is greatness.


Here’s to all those sacred acts of daily caring and to the intentional and loving care partners, bringing greatness into the lives of those living with dementia.

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


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Ten Tenets for Choosing Movies to Boost Memories and Moods

Cinema can fill in the empty spaces of your life and your loneliness .    Pedro Almodovar                                                              


Invite Connections Through Watching Films Together

Most of us who visit care facilities have witnessed the dreaded “people slumped over in front of the television” syndrome. Of course, you don’t want to park your beloved person in front of a screen. But watching an appropriate movie together can be a meaningful experience.

Movies can stir up positive memories and invite conversations, such as discussing a favorite actor, a memorable scene, the old movie theater just a streetcar ride from home, or a special date at the movies.

According to Alzheimer’, a good movie experience can leave a person with Alzheimer’s in a better mood and more engaged with others. A film can also help bridge generations, giving grandparents, children, and grandchildren something to share.

When selecting a movie for viewing, chose a film that is:      watching movies

  • Fun and uplifting
  • Easy to understand in terms of plot and characters
  • Under two hours
  • Void of violence, illness and death
  • Appealing to the person who has Alzheimer’s

Choose a comfortable setting with minimal distractions so you can talk during the film, discussing any memories, ideas or questions that the film inspires.

Familiar musicals, such as The Wizard of Oz, Camelot, or Guys and Dolls, often resonate with people who have Alzheimer’s. Other favorite films might include  It’s A Wonderful Life and Singin’ In the Rain.

Comfort and Console Yourself with Cinema

Movies can also recharge your spirit, during times when you need a little relaxation and entertainment but you’re too tired to leave the house. My friend Karen Rowinsky, LSCSW, ( wrote about cinematherapy in a recent blog. She’s an expert on self-care and I wanted to share her suggestions with collage

Here are Karen’s ideas:

Need a laugh, a cathartic crying session, or some excitement in your life? Instead of selecting your next movie by analyzing Rotten Tomatoes, let your choice reflect the mood you desire.

Here are some ideas that may fit the bill:

  • Need to getaway from it all? Watch a film from another country.
  • Haven’t laughed in a while? Pick an actor or genre that always gets you going.
  • Want to release tension? Select a thriller with lots of suspense that will leave you spent.
  • Feeling wrapped up in your problems? Find a biographical movie with an inspiring story.
  • Desire some mental stimulation? Documentaries or films on a topic you know nothing about can help.

Most of us get stuck in a rut when it comes to movies. Services like Netflix divide their movies into genres and sub-genres. You can look for comedies but then narrow your choices down to dark comedies, slapstick, spoofs, romantic comedies, etc. Trade lists of favorite movies with friends. Better yet, start a film festival with your friends or family, using a theme, a decade, or genre to make your choices.imgres

Self-care can be as easy as a DVD and some popcorn.



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


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Creating Community for Optimal Aging

Even before my parents moved from Memphis to live near me in Kansas City, they were part of my social circle. We always invited friends to family holidays and I often hosted gatherings when my parents visited. I wanted them to know my friends and vice versa. When they finally moved because of Mom’s increasing memory issues, they had a small community of people who already knew and cared about them.

holding handsSo I was very interested when I read Martha Stettinius’ thoughts on Aging in Community. Martha lives in a co-housing setting in New York and knows the benefits first-hand. I wanted to share some of her insights.

From Martha Stettinius, author of Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir

How does aging “in community” differ from aging “in place”? And how can we age “in community” no matter where we live?

Many boomers have witnessed their parents’ struggle with long-term care and they want an alternative to aging by themselves at home and overtaxing family members, or to being placed in a large facility. They seek a network of mutual support among friends, family, and their community, a network that allows them to help others now, and receive help in the future.  holding hands in circle

Aging in community can mean living in an intentional community such as in cohousing, or within a network of neighbors who volunteer to help each other, such as the Beacon Hill Village in Boston. Building this community means finding or creating the places and relationships that can sustain us as we grow older and sticking by friends who are living with frailty, dementia, or a disability.

I have lived in cohousing with my family for 16 years, and believe that if we age in community we are more likely to remain healthier longer, stay in our own homes longer, and appreciate the gifts of giving and receiving care. We are more likely to accept our vulnerability and understand that asking for assistance and companionship is not a weakness.

We can also age in community in a facility, if it respects and empowers both elders and professional caregivers and fosters close relationships between staff and residents.


Martha’s ideas resonate with me and remind me to be present for friends, family, and neighbors who might need extra assistance or support.

For more about Martha’s work, visit her website at

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


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Eight Easy Actions to Evoke the Inner Artist

“Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate.”        Harvey Fierstein

For Mary, the brief journey from her mother’s bedroom to the Memory Unit’s community area seemed endless.

“Where are we going?” her mother, Irene, asked. “I don’t want to go. I am so confused. Where are we going? I don’t want to go.”

“We’re going to look at art, Mom,” Mary said. “It’ll be fun.”

When Mary finally got her mom settled into a chair, her mother seemed to collapse inward. Irene’s head bent; her back hunched. She cocooned into herself and seemed oblivious of the other people in the circle. Even though Irene had formerly loved going to galleries and museums, she didn’t stir when the facilitator asked, “How many of you enjoy looking at art?”

Then the facilitator came right over to Irene, gently got her attention and showed her a Norman Rockwell print that featured a young boy and a dog.  Rockwell boy and dog

Irene stared at the picture.

“What do you see?” asked the facilitator.

“I had a dog,” Irene said. “Peaches.”

“Tell us about Peaches,” the facilitator said.

“She loved to catch balls,” Irene said. “She slept with me.”

“I had a dog named Happy,” said another woman.

“My brother had a spaniel,” said a man.

“Peaches was a terrier,” Irene said.

Mary took a deep breath and smiled as her mother talked about her dog and interacted with the others. The art had invited Irene out and Irene’s conversation had invited the others out.


“Looking at art and making observations gives people living with dementia a chance to exercise their imagination and creativity,” says Susan Shifrin, PhD, Director, ARTZ Philadelphia.The ARTZ (Artists for Alzheimer’s) program, was founded by Dr. John Zeisel and Sean Caulfield, MEd.

“When commenting on art, there are no right or wrong answers,” Susan says. “People are enlivened, realizing they still have ideas to contribute.”

Prior to a museum visit, an ARTZ facilitator brings photos of familiar works of art to a care facility, noticing which photos evoke memories, emotions and conversation. The facilitator then tailors a museum visit to feature similar art.

Even galleries without a special ARTZ program can tailor visits for those who have dementia.

Rockwell Christmas

Creative Sparks:

To create an ARTZ experience at home, choose art that:

  • Speaks to the individual’s background or interests.
  • Tells a story, such as Norman Rockwell prints about families and familiar situations.
  • Features animals that the loved one likes.

Select art books from the library or use your own personal collection. For individuals deep into dementia, bright colors and abstract art are often appealing.

To create your own museum tour:

  • If possible, ask a docent for a special guided tour.
  • Choose one or two rooms that feature art appealing to your loved one.
  • Choose at least one room that has a place to sit and look at the art.
  • Move slowly and take your time looking at the art. Use the art as a catalyst for conversation.

art museumClick here for more information about ARTZ

A portion of this article first appeared in Natural Awakenings.

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


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The Power of the Dedicated Listener


I missed my mother and I missed being around people who have Alzheimer’s. So I volunteered to visit people living in a memory care unit.

Donna greeted me warmly. She wore a man’s plaid shirt, black sweat pants and worn tennis shoes. She was lean and restless, her hands a nest one moment and a flying bird the next.

“She likes to talk,” was all the staff told me.

She noticed my orange shirt and I told her it was seersucker.

“Yes, he had a suit,” she said. Her gaze was earnest and her words seemed urgent. Listening to her was an archaeological experience: hills of dust and sand with an occasional gem of a multi-syllable word.

“I knew they needed to triangulate,” she told me. “But then the 466 of them fell into the 375.”

She looked into my eyes as she spoke and I tried to intuit what she was telling me.imgres-1

The aide who introduced me hadn’t known anything about Donna’s background and I wondered if she’d been an accountant, manager, or entrepreneur.

“How did you feel about that triangulation?”  I asked.

“Not good.”

”Tell me more about that.”

She offered a stream of eroded words, with major letters worn away.

As we talked, I felt I was dog paddling through rough seas, clinging onto whole words and struggling to understand her. But maybe I was trying too hard.

At the end of her time together, she smiled.

“Good,” she said. “This was good.”

Maybe it was enough for her to talk and have a dedicated listener.


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

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