Monthly Archives: October 2015

A Halloween Surprise

For months, I’ve been working on my book on dementia and creativity. I’ve been so inspired by all the artistic people who know so many exciting ways to connect through creativity.
My mother’s sense of creativity and playfulness thrived in her last years. But there was one other part of her that was also in full force as well. See if you can identify with this Halloween tale that I first shared last year.

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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Quick Creative Boosts

“I do not know what is going on, but it seems Alzheimer’s stops where creativity begins.”    -Person living with Alzheimer’s disease, after creating art

imgres-3I wanted to do a quick spiritual practice that was aligned with art and I asked artist, art therapist, counselor, and teacher Shelley Klammer for advice.

“Every day, you can simply draw a mandala, a circle, and color it any way you want,” she said.

I liked her idea and began drawing a circle almost daily. Then I have fun filling the inside with crayons, paints, markers, colored pencils, chalk, and pens. Sometimes I create bright designs; other times I draw childlike images—a bunny, a tree, an elephant. With each creation, I feel like I am reclaiming my love of drawing that I had set aside years ago because I  “wasn’t very good at it.”

The repetition of the circle gives form to whatever art drifts out of me, just as the repetition inherent in the role of care partner holds a space for creativity.

How are you adding creativity to your every day life?

For more about Shelley and her work, please visit

http://www.expressiveartworkshops.com/

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“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ― Kurt VonnegutIf This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” ― Martha Graham

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

 

 

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The Marvels of Movement 

Dancing is like dreaming with your feet!  ~Constanze

 

During my mom’s dementia journey, movement often inspired and connected us. Here is one of those magical moments, excerpted from my book, Love in the land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. The story is set in my mom’s memory care unit.

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Rochelle, the activity director, sticks in another tape and soon Stardust is playing. images

“Let’s dance,” she says, motioning everyone to stand.

Mom looks up and I offer her my hand.

“Want to dance?” I ask her.

“What?”

“Want to dance?” I repeat, making a swirling motion.

“What else,” she says, standing up.

My parents have danced to this song many times, my mother coaxing my father onto the dance floor. I hold hands with Mom and move back and forth to the music. She laughs and does the same. I twirl her, and she walks around in a jaunty little circle. For a moment, her energy and charm have returned. I feel like I have found my long-lost mother. If my father were here, he would not be surprised. He is certain she will return to him and takes every word, every gesture of affection, every smile as a sign of hope.

“Hope is everything,” Dad told me just last week. “I find something hopeful and I milk it for all it’s worth. If it doesn’t work out, then I search for something else. Otherwise, I am in despair.”

I twirl my mom again. It is actually our first real dance together …

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I loved my dance with my mother for the deep connection it gave me. My friend Natasha Jen Goldstein-Levitas reminds me of the other benefits of movement.  Natasha is a Philadelphia, PA based Registered Dance/Movement Therapist (R-DMT) and Reiki Practitioner who does heartfelt and creative work with those living with dementia.  She writes: “Among the creative arts therapy modalities, dance/movement therapy (DMT) offers the opportunity for individuals to express themselves, regardless of functional level. DMT engages the sensory systems and stimulates the physical, emotional, and cognitive areas of functioning. This movement is also a wonderful outlet for care partners.”

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Samuel Beckett sums this up, He says, “Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.”

To read Natasha’s blog, please visit:

http://blog.adta.org/category/creative-arts-therapy/

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

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Four Easy Ways to Enrich People’s Lives

I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to lie on the floor on that large piece of white paper, but my first grade teacher did not give me a choice.

“Debbie,” she commanded, pointing sternly to the butcher block paper stretched on our school’s aging linoleum. Gingerly, I lowered myself to the ground, moving my arms away from my sides as instructed. Then two classmates traced around me with crayons. Our assignment that day was to draw in our features and our clothes. In essence, we were to clone ourselves using only primary colors. tracing

Years later, at a self-exploration workshop, I again had to pour myself onto a sheet of paper and allow myself to be outlined. This time I was to draw or write in fears and beliefs along with accomplishments and dreams. This was definitely more fun than grade school and infinitely more challenging.

Just recently, I read about a “blank slate” exercise that I really liked. The booklet You Can Help Someone Live Fully With Dementia: A Guide for Family and Friends, suggests that we take an outlined profile and write down all the ways we might help a person living with dementia enrich his or her life.

I really resonated with this exercise. I also thought this was a beautiful idea to do for friends and family as well. How meaningful to think about ways to improve the lives of those close to us.

This brief book, which is accompanied by an inspiring DVD, offers simple tips to help us increase emotional connections during the dementia journey. Ideas include being enthusiastic and encouraging, thinking creatively when suggesting activities, focusing on the individual’s desires and strengths, and adopting a “no wrong way” spirit. right way

This succinct and compassionate guidebook reminds us of the importance of being guided by those who are living with dementia. The authors, Karen Love and Elia Fernia, are advocates who are making a difference in dementia care throughout the country.

 

Karen Love and Elia Femia, PhD are gerontologists and nationally known experts in dementia care. They are the co-founders of FIT Interactive, LLC. fitkits.org

 

For more information about living fully with dementia, please visit the Dementia Action Alliance www.thedaanow.org

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

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