Monthly Archives: October 2014

Unwrapping a Halloween Surprise

Do you remember trick or treating as a kid, racing down the street, dressed as a superhero or a princess or a witch, eager for treats? When I was growing up, I loved the freedom and surprise of that holiday and I continue to love the scintillating spookiness and dramatic dress of the holiday. Here’s a story about a Halloween gift I received in a memory care unit. Click here if you’d like to watch a video of the story or read on, if you prefer the written word. Either way, I hope you’ll “treat” yourself right this October 31.

Warmly,

Deborah

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My Caregiver’s Two-Letter Halloween Treat

On my mother’s last Halloween, her memory care unit held a party. Pam, the nurse, brought a basket brimming with hats, shawls, and scarves. Pam set a floppy white hat on Mom’s silvery curls and draped a lacy purple shawl over her shoulders. In her new adornments, Mom looked both puzzled and happy.

But during the “treat” portion of the Halloween celebration, which featured M & M’s and chocolate chip cookies, Mom’s smile was unambiguous. All her life, Mom had adored sweets and her Alzheimer’s had not dimmed her enjoyment.

Then small children paraded through the facility, dressed as princesses, witches, super heroes, and ghosts. Volunteers handed the residents wrapped tootsie rolls.

“For the children,” they said.

Mom smiled at the adorable kitty cats and pirates who chanted “Trick or treat,” in wispy voices, but she did not relinquish her hold on the sweets; she did not share her candy.

“Mom, would you like to give the children some of your candy?” I asked as my mother gripped her treasure.

“No,” she said.

No. The word floated through my mind and I gazed at Mom, my mouth open, my mind euphoric. Perhaps I should have been chagrined at her selfishness but instead I was thrilled that she had actually responded to my question. It was the closest we’d come to conversation in weeks. I laughed with delight. Mom laughed.

For that moment, we were two women, laughing at ourselves, laughing at life, simply laughing. For me, it was a most wondrous and unexpected treat.

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Please share one of your unexpected treats.

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

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Singing Along, Singing Our Song and Making a Difference

“What’s the score?”

Thet was the question on all of our minds Wedsnesday evening October 15 as the KC Royals played the fourth playoff game with the Baltimore Orioles. For months, we’d been scheduled to present an Alzheimer’s program at this church, A Music Lesson in the Art of Love, with singer Cynthia Schroer and guitarist Rod Fleeman. But our baseball team’s wild, wonderful, and unexpected success was taking precedence that evening.  images

The preacher looked at his cell phone.

“The score is 2-1 KC in the bottom of the ninth,” the preacher said.”We are two outs away from being in the World Series.”

All 20 of us crowded closer and the preacher gave us a play-by-play of the proceedings. When the Royals won, we all cheered and applauded and Rod led us in a rousing version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

After our jubilation abated, we settled in to do our program, a combination of songs and stories that focused on the gifts and blessings in the caregiver’s journey.

Cynthia and Rod are remarkable musicians and I wanted to share one of their songs with you. Click here to listen.

I also wanted to share an article about three people who are really making a difference using music. This article from Unity Magazine features the inspiring stories of Dan Cohen from Music and Memory, Janalea Hoffman from Rhythmic Medicine, and Richard Mekdici from Posi Music.  Click here to tune into it. 

Here’s to singing along, singing our song, and making a difference.IMG_2232

 

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

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Four Reminders to Enjoy the Moment

images-1Every week, I have the joy of interviewing a couple and learning their love story. We talk about where and when they met, what they like about each other, and how they stay connected during life’s chaos and challenges.

Recently, I talked to a couple who met in their late seventies. Both had lost their spouses and both were amazed to fall in love again. When I asked how they kept their relationship strong, she answered, “Because of our age, we know we don’t have that much time left to be together. We enjoy every moment of every day.”

Since that conversation, I have thought often about her words: What would it be like to truly appreciate every moment? What would it be like to completely appreciate each person I spent time with?

Being present and appreciative were two of my goals when I spent time with my mom in her later years. One moment, I felt connected, holding Mom’s hand, sitting right next to her while pointing out interesting pictures in a magazine, and the next moment her head would be lowered, her energy drained and I felt alone and sad. But of course, I wasn’t alone; I was right next to my mother, still holding her hand. My task was to enjoy that quiet minutes as much as the time that Mom was interacting with me.

“Enjoy every moment of every day.” These quotes echo that important reminder .

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

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Five Tips for a Terrific Collective Artistic Experience

images-2Twenty years ago, Jytte Fogh Lokvig found herself in a quandary. She was doing a favor for a friend: visiting the friend’s mom weekly while the friend was out of the country for three months. The mom lived in a care facility and the first visit went wonderfully. But the second visit was shocking to Jytte.

“Her mom started screaming and cursing,” Jytte says. “I went to the nurses’ station to figure out what was wrong. The nurse told me she had Alzheimer’s.”

Jytte, who had experience in art and working with at-risk youth, knew nothing about dementia. But she started to learn. Using principles she’d employed with youth, she began offering additional activities at the facility.

“I didn’t view people with dementia as sick,” she says. “Everything I planned was directed at the well part of the person.”

She looked for activities that were collaborative rather than competitive, so everyone could bloom with a feeling of accomplishment.

“I started with a group collage,” she says. “That way, we were all working together.”imgres

Through the process of creating collectively, people relaxed and became comfortable with the materials. This experience was so fulfilling and moving that Jytte began working with families, guiding them in doing projects together.

Jytte suggests collages because they are easy and there is no right or wrong with collage.

“Collect old magazines, buy a few glue sticks, and break down big boxes to use for cardboard,” she suggests. “Engagement and conversation are the important things; if it never gets beyond discussing a picture of daisies that reminds her of her growing up garden, that’s fine.”

Jytte believes the keys to engagement include giving people enough time, letting them work at their own pace, and offering them consistent opportunities for self-expression.

When possible, invite others to join you for the collage experience. Introduce the project by asking the person with dementia for help, saying, “Hey Mom, I really want to do this project. Want to help me?”

images-1If Mom is reluctant, start the project and mention; “I sure could use your help if you don’t have anything else to do.”
Tear pictures out of colorful magazines.
Let Mom direct the artistic action.
Use the pictures to trigger conversation.
Enjoy the process and don’t worry about a finished product.

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Jytte Fogh Lokvig, PhD, is the author of The Alzheimer’s Creativity Project and Alzheimer’s A to Z, Secrets to Successful Caregiving. She is also a founder of the Alzheimer’s Café.

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

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