Monthly Archives: March 2016

My Favorite Form of Brain Fitness

As the daughter of someone who lived with dementia, I do a lot of things to promote my brain health. I try to walk 10,000 steps a day, along with other exercise. I eat blueberries and broccoli. I work on crossword puzzles, occasionally flirt with a new language, try new things, and sing. But a recent study revealed that I was doing something else that was cheering on my brain, something I hadn’t even counted….

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Yes, eating dark chocolate. I am in love with this Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), of 968 people that asserts:

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.

More Delicious 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 Brain

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 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?

www.goodnewsnetwork.org/study-confirms-brain-and-memory-benefits-from-dark-chocolate/

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666316300459

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. IMG_0107

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The Secret of Art-Power: Imagination Rules

This is a story celebrating the arts and creativity, an excerpt from my book Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

We are delighted to be presenting a program in partnership with the Liberty Library Art Gallery, the Liberty Arts Commission, and the Heart of America Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. If you’re in our area, please feel join us.

 The Hills Are Alive

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I miss my mom and decide to attend a Memories in the Making art class, designed for people who are living with dementia. I want to meet some of the artists and feel my connection to Mom, who was an avid painter in her earlier years, through the artistic process. Still, I feel nervous as I walk through the nursing home and into a small activity area.

“We have a visitor today,” Harriet, the facilitator, tells the assembled group.

Everyone looks up.

“Come paint with us,” a woman says.

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I smile and begin to relax. Harriet hands me bowl of water, paper, brush and watercolors and finds me a place. Then she introduces me to the artists.

Ed, a former veterinarian, has a photograph of a great blue heron in front him. He is a slight, spry man who looks like he could fix any emergency.

“That bird is really coming along,” Harriet tells Ed. Using colored pencils, he has sketched the upper half of the heron. The bird has an inquisitive look. Now Ed is concentrating on drawing an assortment of cattails, reeds, and other marsh plants in the background.

“Ed is married to Rhea,” Harriet tells me, as I look at the splash of free-form color on Rhea’s page. Rhea, who also has Alzheimer’s, is creating a sunset with vivid oranges and purples. I smile at the difference in their art—Ed’s controlled sense of detail, Rhea’s spontaneous bursts of color. I imagine those traits made for a good partnership.

“We’ve been together twenty-two years,” Rhea says. She has a plump welcoming look about her. “Or maybe it’s twenty-five years. Do you remember?” she asks Ed.

“A long time,” Ed says.

Norman has beautiful silver hair, deep brown eyes, and is dressed in a Polo shirt and slacks. He looks like he could easily be running a meeting or entertaining important clients on the golf course. Formerly an engineer, he was living in New Orleans, Harriet explains, and was moved up here to be near family. He is recreating a mountain lake scene and has quickly captured the essence of his photograph.

memorie making image 1“I just use my fingers to gauge the perspective,” he tells me, when I compliment his work. In his spare time, Harriet says, he is recreating maps of area bridges.

As I sit down to my own paper and watercolors, I hear someone from the room next-door singing, The Sound of Music.

Harriet sings along and we chime in. As I paint, I feel a sense of connection. Harriet knows how to create a space where the artist can blossom.

Harriet starts a verse of Over There and everyone joins in.

After some time, Harriet says, “It’s almost time to stop for today.” I take a final walk around the table. Ed’s heron looks ready to enter an Audubon competition. Rhea’s sunset is colorful and dramatic. Norman’s hills look complete and his lake is taking shape. My own painting looks plain and unsophisticated next to the rest of the art.

“Have any of these people had art lessons before?” I ask, as I help Harriet empty water bowls and clear away used paper towels.

“No,” she tells me.

For most of these artists, this is a tender and uncertain time, a period when memory and rational thinking are often memorie making image 2blotchy and blurred, where words can fall away as quickly as autumn leaves. This art program gives them a chance to express themselves freely and creatively. Out of the mental chaos and confusion, the art emerges, vibrant, true, and exciting.

As I am taking leave of Harriet, Norman comes back into the room.

“Is there white?” he says. “I’m going to need white for the snow on the mountain tops.”

“I’ll have some for next time,” Harriet promised. “Meanwhile, would you like one of these white pencils?”

Norman takes the pencil. “The snow makes all the difference,” he tells me. His walk is steady and sure and he leaves the room humming, “The hills are alive.”

Untitled1Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. 

 

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One Simple Secret that Lights Up Lives

What if someone listened to you carefully enough to remember some of your favorite accomplishments? What if someone reminded you of those treasured moments as a way of celebrating you?

“When people can’t tell their own stories, their care partners can tell the stories for them,” says Tryn Rose Seley, expressive arts facilitator and author of 15 Minutes of Fame.  “You can support significant events with affirmation cards, stating the achievement and thanking them.”   index cards

For example, for a client who is a retired teacher, Tryn prints on index cards,  “You love children so much. You have taught many kindergarteners, and made a wonderful difference in their lives. Thank you.”

She puts these cards in prominent locations, so they can talk about them during the day.

When I interviewed Tryn for my upcoming book, I fell in love with this simple yet profound idea. I thought of my mother and the kinds of cards I could have created for her: “You served your country as a nurse in WWII. Thank you so much for that act of bravery.”   “You painted wonderful pictures that you shared with family and friends. Thank you.”

I thought of friends who are living with dementia and the affirmations they would enjoy. I also thought of myself and my beloved partner Ron and the kinds of stories and affirmations that would make us glow.

Tryn reminded me how important meaningful activities, loving support, and affirmations are for people who are living with dementia, for their care partners, and for all of us.

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Tryn Rose Seley is a musician, photographer, author, and expressive arts facilitator. She loves to interact with people of every age and does so on a regular basis. She leads musical experiences, shares her caregiver book, and writes every day, sometimes on the back of grocery receipts, other times on the world-wide-web. www.caregiverheart.com

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

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Five A-HaHaHa’s for Adding More Laughter into your Life

When you laugh, you change, and when you change, the whole world changes.   Dr. Madan Kataria, M.D., Founder, Laughter Yoga Movement

Have you ever found yourself surrounded by brilliant, compassionate, and creative people? For months, I interviewed more than 60 such luminaries, all of whom contributed to my new book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together. The book features easy, meaningful, and fun activities for people living with dementia and their care partners.

Dr Madan Kataria, founder of the globally acclaimed Laughter Yoga movement, taught me how important and easy it is to consciously add laughter into the day.

“Do you know the Ha Ha chorus?” he asked, during our Skype session.

I had to answer, “No.”

He began singing, “Ha ha ha ha ha ha,” to the tune of Happy Birthday to You. I was instantly laughing, as was he.

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Carmela Carlyle, who is a Dementia Care Specialist, Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher, and the creator of the training DVD, Laughter Yoga with Elders, offered simple tips for adding laughter into daily life, including “Ha ha ha-ing” at traffic lights and while cooking a meal together.

From these two luminaries, I learned the importance of consciously integrating laughter into daily life. Dr. Kataria explained that laughter improves blood circulation and increases the net amount of oxygen to body and brain, which makes us feel more healthy and energetic. Laughter also makes our immune system stronger. Plus, laughing with others builds a social bond and reduces feelings of isolation.

Carmela Carlyle says, “When we laugh, our jaws move, sending a message directly to the brain to release feel-good hormones.  People living with dementia can bypass the intellect and go directly to the powerful medicine of laughter.”

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To add more laughter into your life, visit www.laughteryoga.org

Madan Kataria, MD, is the founder of  the Laughter Yoga Clubs movement, which started in 1995 in Mumbai, India. Dr. Kataria is an internationally acclaimed speaker and a corporate consultant for holistic health, stress management, team building, leadership, peak performance and communication skills. He is associated with a number of research projects to measure the benefits of laughter. www.laughteryoga.org

Carmela Carlyle, is a psychotherapist, Eldercare Specialist, Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and Certified Integrative Yoga Therapist. Her DVD, Laughter Yoga with Older Adults: Joyful Chair Fitness, is used all over the world. www.carmelacarlyle.com

 

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

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March Forth

It all began decades ago with the comic wrapped over the tempting pink square of Dubble Bubble. double bubbleA sweet scent swept into me as I popped the gum into my mouth. While I chomped, the sugary juices swelling against my teeth, I read the riddle, neatly typed under the comic. “What is the only day of the year that tells you to go forward?” I had to twist the paper upside down to discover the answer: “March Fourth.” (March Forth!) Since that long ago moment, March Fourth has been one of my favorite days. Every year, I ponder, how am I going to march forth this year? How will I contribute to the world and how will I experience a meaningful and happy life?

This year I am learning a few creative lessons from several families of monkeys we met while visiting Costa Rica. These monkeys travel in groups, with a leader to show the way and a follower to make sure everyone gets safely on the tree-born trail. Often, the monkeys have to leap to the next limb, letting go before they’ve safely latched onto the next branch. They’re curious and if anything hints at being delicious or interesting, they scramble down to investigate. And they are not shy about sounding their voices.

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Here’s a small monkeying around video and here’s a few of the ways I’m inspired to March Forth.

A delicious way to March Forth

I’m following the trail of my own curiosity.

I’m helping others find a path.

I’m letting go of the familiar when I can.

I’m making the most of what is right in front of me.

I’d love to hear about the people or animals that inspire you and I’m interested in any ways you’re going to March Forth.

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

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