Category Archives: The Arts

Adapting to Dementia: Laurie Scherrer’s Inspiring Story

“I’m having a slow day,” Laurie Scherrer says, when I call her Pennsylvania home for our scheduled conversation on adapting to dementia. “So bear with me.”

It was easy to bear with Laurie, as she is bright, positive, articulate, insightful, and authentic.

I met her during a telephone interview for the esteemed podcast, Alzheimer’s Speaks, which she co-hosted along with founder Lori La Bey. I was so impressed with both of the women’s insights and interviewing abilities, and I wanted to learn more about how Laurie managed her life with early onset dementia.  Here are some highlights from our conversation.

From Sales Leader to Closet Cleaner

How do you go from excelling in a distinguished business career as a top manager and sales leader to becoming an unemployed 55-year-old woman who can no longer do a simple math problem or weed her prized garden?

That’s what happened when Laurie Scherrer was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2013.  After days of languishing at home, cleaning out closets, and feeling like a complete nobody, she realized she needed to take action. And being a woman filled with determination and creativity, she did just that, with her husband offering his unwavering support.

“I have a passion for excellence and the recognition that comes with it,” Laurie says. “Being Number One in sales drove me.”

Since she had nothing to push towards, she turned toward writing blogs and to her former passion for sewing, so she’d once again feel accomplished. Plus, Laurie wanted something tangible to give to her family members, something that said, “I love you.”

Forgetting the Curves and Going Straight

In her earlier days, before her career consumed much of her time, Laurie was an accomplished seamstress, reveling in creating costumes for church programs. She had loved sewing quilts and clothes and decided she’d return to her former hobby.

She sat down with yards of fabric, ready to cut quilting squares. But hard as she tried, she could not figure out how to cut the fabric. She was slumped over her sewing machine, weeping, when her neighbor dropped by.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Laurie said.

“I’ll help you,” her neighbor said.

She brought over a cutting board with lines in it and talked Laurie through the process of cutting the cloth.

“Once she helped me lay it out, I could do it again,” Laurie says.  

Laurie has since created blankets, pillowcases, burping cloths, and more for her family.

“The straight lines are working for me,” she says.

Noticing the Blessings

Laurie is making the most of her life. She treasures her glorious back yard and her deepened relationship with nature.

“Before, I was so busy, I never saw all the beauty around me,” she says.

She also treasures her worldwide friendships with people living with dementia, which she nourishes through video chatting and posting on Facebook. She and some chat friends recently started a virtual spiritual dementia café, where they read, discuss scripture and pray with and for people from all over the world.

Most of all she loves knowing she is giving back and helping others through her writing, speaking, radio hosting, and advocacy.

Teaming Up to Produce Great Results

Laurie and her husband work together to help her live a vibrant life. Here are their tips:

  • Have a designated place and time to escape to, with no phones or email, so you can talk, cry, and really express yourself.
  • Talk through the tough times. Notice when someone has a difficult day and figure out how you can improve things.
  • Work together to adapt beloved activities.  
  • Laugh as much as possible.
  • Be thankful for every good moment.

I know you’re going to want to know more about this remarkable woman and her tips for adapting to dementia.  Visit https://dementiadaze.com/about-me/

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.
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Creating a Memorable Dementia-Friendly Movie Experience

For months, our Kansas City Movies and Memory team has been working on creating a memorable dementia-friendly movie experience and film series. Ron and I were so lucky to partner with the Heart of America Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Kansas City Public Library, and the Kansas City FilmFest. For our first offering, we wanted a short movie with a splash of fun and a heart-filled message that would engage multi-generations.  We wanted live music and free popcorn. We wanted each person to walk away with a souvenir. And we wanted to attract a diverse audience.

img_4677The Red Balloon was a wonderful success.  This ageless film, about a boy and his magical balloon, attracted one hundred people, from ages three up through the nineties. Our audience, little kids and big kids both, clustered around the popcorn machine, watching the aromatic kernels blossom. They listened to Parisian songs by a renowned clarinetist and a guitarist.  They learned a little about creating a “memory aware” city. And they laughed, smiled, sat on the edge of their seats, and clapped, all avidly involved in the movie. At the end, we walked out holding a huge bouquet of red balloons and each person was excited to take home a lovely reminder of the afternoon.

Here’s what we learned: when you’re taking photos of people holding balloons, you don’t even have to ask them to say, “Cheese.”  They’re already smiling.

Here’s the great news.

You can easily have this movie experience at home. It’s perfect for an intergenerational family gathering, a holiday event, or just a cozy evening at home.

Here are a few tips for creating a memorable movie experience:

  • Pick a time of day where everyone has good energy. Our event was held at 2:00 in the afternoon.img_4663
  • Make sure the technology is organized and everyone can see the screen.
  • Arrange for comfortable seating and minimal distractions.
  • Offer your favorite movie-going indulgences. Freshly popped popcorn is irresistible.
  • Talk about what you’re going to see.
  • If you want, stop the movie in the middle and talk about what you’ve seen. Ask open-ended questions, such as “Would you have climbed the pole to fetch the balloon?” “Why do you think the boy loved the balloon so much?” “What does this movie make you think of?”
  • At the end, talk about the movie: what you liked, what you didn’t like, and what the movie made you think about.
  • When the movie experience is complete, hand each person a helium-filled red balloon. Even a red balloon filled with hot air will do!

img_4460The Red Balloon is just one idea. Please tell us about movies or TV shows you have enjoyed watching and share your film-watching tips.

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.CITLOD very smallLove in the Land of Dementia_cover

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An Inside Look at Creative Aging

We are huddled on the floor, concentrating on our assignment. Each of us has shared an important saying or proverb that impacted our lives and now we are turning those six sayings into a song. We have a daunting five minutes to accomplish this creative task. However, we also have songwriter and musician Vanessa Torres from Lifesongs to guide us. After we’ve shared our sayings, Vanessa instantly comes up with a theme–These Are Things That I’ve Learned. Our song centers around that chorus, with each of us weaving in our personal sayings.

In the other three corners of the room, groups are collaborating, turning their sayings into spoken word, dramatic movement, and theatrical improv. Our facilitator, Susan Pearlstein, Founder Emeritus for the National Center for Creative Aging in Washington, DC, and the Founder of Elders Share the Arts in New York City, calls us back to the circle and each group performs their piece. In mere minutes, we have learned something important about each person, we have created an artistic work with people we’re just getting to know, and we have appreciated the power of creating something together.

This was an exhilarating beginning to the third annual NCCA conference on creative aging.

These are things I that learned at the conference:

imagesEvery person is inherently creative. Of course, I knew this. But it is so lovely to be reminded in so many ways. It is so lovely to be invited more deeply into your own creativity through song, dance, theater games, art, movement, and brainstorming. It’s inspiring to be in a room where so many are expressively at ease with their creative spirits.

Here are some insights from conference luminaries. Some are not attributed because I was so raptly listening I didn’t write everything down!

“Creativity is a moment when we look at the ordinary, but see the extraordinary.”

“Art is for everyone. It’s not a frivolous add-on. It’s a vital part of life. Everyone is creative. Dream and dispel the myth that ‘I can’t do art.’ Aging has been treated like it’s all gray but it’s really expansive colors.”  Remarks of Jane Chu, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Sept 25th, 2016.  Click here to enjoy a video of the Chairman

“Feeling useful is a human right.”

“Fifty percent of our elders feel lonely.” Vice Mayor Karsten Klein, The Hague

“By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation, reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how great it is to be alive.” Dave Isay, founder of

StoryCorps, via Eddie Gonzalez

“Bringing what is inside to the outside; it is important to do this as we age.” Mary Luehrsen, National Association of Music Merchants

“Creativity is the connective tissue that we use to build community across diverse differences.” Anne Basting, TimeSlips, ™ Recipient of a 2016 MacArthur Genius Grant

“Instructors need people living with dementia as co-teachers to transform educational goals. “ Dr. Elizabeth Lokon, Opening Minds Through Art

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John Killick (right) and Gary Glazner celebrating the power of poetry

 

John Killick, poet, author and innovator in creativity and dementia, heard this wisdom one day while visiting a memory care community:

“Words of comfort are free, but very necessary.”

“I love it when you hold out your hand and water pours from it.”

“If you don’t ask for the moon, you don’t even get a piece of cheese.”

“You have to introduce yourself or else it all goes brittle.”

“Life is the slackness, the film and the veil.”

“Every time I look for home, I find you.”

John says, “This tells me that people with dementia are really creative and all we have to do is listen and be enriched.

This is just a soupçon of things that I learned. I wish I could have talked to every person at the conference. I wish I could have listened full on to their stories, to their sayings and proverbs, to the things that they knew and the things they had learned. Which is one reason I hope to return to the conference next year.

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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The Best Rx: Smiles

img_3262-2I’ve met a lot of doctors whom I admire, due to their intelligence, listening skills, willingness to collaborate, and their ability to have the occasional hearty laugh. Recently Veronica Kaninska, Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, introduced me to a Doc I instantly fell in love with.

I went on rounds with Veronica and Dr. Moody, who often works with people who are living with dementia. I was so impressed with his knowledge of each individual and the warm way he offered his services. His first patient lit up when he and Veronica strolled toward her.

“How are you today?” he asked in a friendly avuncular voice. “Dr. Moody is here to check your mood. Are you feeling happy?”

“Yes, Dr. Moody, I’m happy now that you’re here.”

“Let me check your smile.”

She smiled broadly and Dr. Moody nodded approvingly.

“Let me see your eyes.”

She widened her eyes.

“Good. Your eyes are sparkling. I hope you keep your happy mood all day.”

“I will Dr. Moody, I will.”

We continued with Dr. Moody checking on some more patients. Each one enjoyed his company and he promised to come again and check on their moods.

After rounds, Veronica slid Dr. Moody off her arm and hung him near another popular puppet, Froggie, who she also uses for therapeutic purposes.

“People who are living with dementia often feel very comfortable communicating with puppets,” Veronica says.

I wondered if Dr. Moody was open to new patients and Veronica assured me he was.

Click here to meet the good doctor. img_3325-1

“Puppets break down barriers,” Veronica says. “They have no religion, no gender, and no judgment. People living with dementia often feel comfortable confiding in a puppet.”

In a space of three to five minutes, I saw Veronica and Dr. M transform the energy of the people they visited. I asked Veronica to share a few tips for using puppets.

Click here to learn more. 

If you’d like to know more about Veronica and her work, read her chapter in Connecting in the Land of Dementia.

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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Five Creative Tips for Meaningful Engagement

 

Each person I interviewed for Connecting in the Land of Dementia inspired me with something meaningful and unique. I wanted to share a few of their ideas with you.

Before I do, here’s a question: What does the song FrimFram Sauce, the recipe for Johnny Marzimagesetti, and cooking have to do with creativity and dementia? Join us Sunday October 9th at 1:30 at the Kansas City Plaza Library to find out!  RSVP 816-701-3407

The Often Hidden Poetic Potential

“Value what people with dementia are saying, write it down, tape record it, affirm them when they say interesting or beautiful things because that’s their personality showing through in a new way,” says John Killick, internationally acclaimed poet, workshop leader, and author of  Communication And The Care Of People With Dementia.

Even though he’s been orchestrating workshops for years, John is still amazed at the strength of the imaginative spirit and at the quality of the poetry.

images-1“Creativity is essential to people with dementia,” John believes. “It bypasses the intellect, provides valuable experiences, and enhances their sense of personhood.”

 

 

Making Art Soothes and Engages

“Research is now recognizing how making art soothes, and engages people with dementia,” says Shelley Klammer, artist, therapist and the author of the e-book How to Start An Art Program for the Elderly. “Imagery often expresses what words cannot. A pre-drawn structure allows an anxious painter to relax into the process. Painting familiar subject matter can help a person with dementia settle into a pleasurable, meditative state.”

Uncovering and Celebrating Creativity

“Our basic instincts include discovery and invention, and thus creativity,” says John Zeisel, PhD, author of  I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care. “These abilities are hard-wired and people living with dementia can still draw on these skills. They are often exceptionally perceptive, increasingly creative, and have high emotional intelligence. It’s our job to uncover and embrace their abilities so they maintain dignity, independence, and self-respect.”

The Delight of Going to Cultural Activities and Viewing Art imgres

“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. “Many people with dementia have a heightened sensitivity and openness to art, even if they had no previous artistic aptitude.”

“Going to cultural activities offers people a sense of normalcy and gives them a date to put on their calendars,” says Teri Miller, with the Alzheimer’s Association Houston & Southeast Texas Chapter. Teri has witnessed the power of creativity and the arts. As the Early Stage Program Manager she says. “When people living with dementia go with friends or care partners, they have an experience to discuss. Even people who say, ‘Oh, I don’t care for museums,’ usually have a great time.”

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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