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Shall We Dance?

img_3196Normally, I do not like being the center of attention. But when Sebastian Tomkowski asked me to dance the merengue, I said yes. Actually, my first reply was, “I can’t dance.” But Sebastian assured me he would guide me, literally, every step of the way.

Sebastian is one of the dancers working with Rhythm Breaks Cares (RBC), a non-profit that specializes in bringing the energy and joy of ballroom dance to people who are living with dementia.  We were lucky to experience one of RBC’s sessions in a New York City care facility.

When everyone was gathered in a circle, Stine Moen, one of RBC’s founders, put on some Frank Sinatra tunes. Instantly, one woman danced her way into the room.  Her movements were graceful and stylish. When Sebastian invited her to waltz, she readily accepted.

Stine asked a seated women if she’d like to dance. The woman said, “I have this walker and I can’t dance with it.”

“You can,” Stine assured her. “You can use your walker and you and I can dance together.”

The woman demurred and sat swaying to the music. But when Stand by Me started playing, she hoisted herself to her feet, grabbed the walker, and began moving rhythmically around the room.

stine-2Two men sat in the circle, seemingly not registering the music. When Stine asked if they’d like to dance, one man held out his hand. Stine took his hand and let him guide the movements, while she made fancy arm gestures that looked as though they were waltzing in an elegant ballroom.Click here for dancing ideas.

One woman sat stock still, but sang along when the song “Fever” played.

“I used to be a singer and my husband played the piano,” she told me, when I sat beside her. “But I don’t remember the words.” She then proceeded to croon along with “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

The energy from the music and movement seemed to engage everyone. Even a man who seemed immobile, his mouth tight, his hands clenched up near his face, gradually softened his expression and lowered his hands to his lap.As for me, I reveled in the experience, dancing with the residents or smiling and moving our hands in time to the music. And of course, I loved my once-in-a-lifetime merengue experience.

 

I asked Stine to offer a few tips for care partners who wanted more movement in their lives.

Here are her suggestions.

“We always start with the music.” says Stine. “That sets the tone.”

Once the music is playing, if possible, make eye contact. Then smile and hold out a hand. Move in ways appropriate to your partner’s abilities.  

Celebrate every movement. Even swaying your arms together to the music is a form of dance.

“It’s not about getting the steps right,” Stine says. “It’s about connecting through music and movement.”

Want to learn more about the power of dance? Visit the RBC website. Good news—RBC offers training for qualified dancers, so they can bring this exciting program to their own communities.

Click here for additional tips from Stine.

Click here for tips from Sebastian.

Read more about creative programs in Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together.  Order your copy from your favorite independent or online bookstore.

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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Three Benefits of Artistic Alchemy

Last week, I wrote about Julian West and his work with music and dementia. Hannah Zeilig, PhD, is an expert in culture, language, and dementia, who participated in and documented Julian’s program. When I interviewed Hannah, I was inspired by her perspective on arts and communications and wanted to share a few of her key ideas.

images-1“The project showed us that you can converse in so many ways,” says Hannah. “The musicians and the dancer reminded us that we all can communicate without language.”

“One of the questions we’re asking in the UK is ‘How can the arts help with dementia? What can arts do that a game of dominoes cannot?’ ” Hannah says. “The arts help people become brave in how they connect with each other.”

The arts also transcend our dependence on achievement, identity, and memory.

“Being scared of dementia is the biggest barrier,” Hannah says. “In our language and our media, dementia is stigmatized and portrayed as catastrophic. One of the natural and common fears is summarized by this: ‘If I can’t remember where I live and my achievements, how do I know who I am?’

Julian’s work reminds us that we are all creative.

“People with dementia can be brimming with creativity and humor and able to make connections with each other,” Hannah says.

During one of Julian’s sessions, the musicians were playing and the dancer was cavorting around the circle. One resident, Alicia, walked right up, took the dancer’s hands and lead her in a waltz.

At the end of the dance, Alicia was glowing. She smiled and said, “We really just did something.”

And she was right.

….

imagesOther gifts from this work in the arts:

  • The residents communicated with more sounds and gestures.
  • The staff saw the creative side of the residents.
  • The creative atmosphere opened everyone up to alternate ways to connecting.

For more about Hannah and her work, visit:

http://markmaking.arts.ac.uk

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

COMING SOON: Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together 

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Orchestrating a Musical Conversation

imagesWhen Ron’s dad was living in a memory care unit, Ron and I talked with the residents and their families, learning about their favorite songs. We orchestrated a sing-along and had fun working with everyone and putting together a scrapbook of each resident’s special tunes. The combination of music and conversation created a sense of community for us all. Julian West, who we met on a recent trip to London, is creating community through engaging people in music and dance. We really love the way he weaves the two art forms  together and wanted to share his easy and adaptable ideas with you.

Julian West had no idea what would happen at the care facility, but he trusted it would be something wonderful. An accomplished oboist and a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, Julian assembled a violist, a composer, a dancer, and an artist to share energy and their art with people who are living with dementia.

“This was an experiment to see what could happen,” Julian says. “We worked completely improvisationally.”

percussionOnce a week, for eight weeks, the troupe came to the residential care home and created a living arts experience with residents and staff. They began by inviting everyone to choose a percussion instrument, such as rain sticks, bells, shakers, tambourine, etc.

“We had a musical conversation,” Julian says. “One person made a sound and another answered. We also chatted a lot. People commented on the music or expressed an emotion or impression.”

The musicians added their instruments and the staff and residents joined in, through percussion and voice.  They made fascinating sounds, like an improv jazz singer might do. The dancer twirled around in the center of their circle. Her free movements gave the group a focal point and inspired others to explore various movements.

“I let go of preconceptions and tried to create an open atmosphere,” Julian says.

The artists’ openness helped the “conversation” grow and blossom.

imgresOne woman who was living with dementia held up a tambourine, keeping it still and gazing at it as though it were a beautiful and revered object.

Julian’s first thought was, “She doesn’t know it’s a musical instrument”.

“I let that thought go,” he says. “I saw how expressive she was. Her interaction with the tambourine was beautiful and profound and she allowed us all to see the instrument differently.”

Even if you don’t have your own musicians and dancers at home, you can still create this supportive and creative atmosphere.

  • Share a few percussion instruments, put on some music you both like, and make some joyful noises. Experiment with bee-bop syllables to add a sense of freedom.
  • After the song, talk about the experience, what you liked, what you felt, and any other impressions that came up.
  • Consider inviting a “guest dancer,” someone who likes to move to music, or a child of a friend who’s taking dancing lessons. Go ahead and add your own moves.
  • Invite friends and family to join you. You’ll have something to laugh, and sing, and talk about.

For more information about Julian’s work, visit: www.julianwest.co.uk

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

COMING SOON: Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together 

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A Toolkit for Art Activities

images“We’re going to talk about birds today and the beautiful sounds and colors they bring to our lives,” Dalia Gottlieb-Tanaka, PhD tells her client Sylvia, who was an art teacher before she was diagnosed with dementia. Dalia, the founder of the Society for the Arts in Dementia Care in British Columbia, hopes to reconnect Sylvia with her love of birds and invite out her creative abilities through discussion and painting.

“When people living with dementia have purposeful activity while interacting with others, they’re less depressed,” Dalia says. “They find more satisfaction in life. Those who’ve been indifferent and bored suddenly show desires and interests.”

Dalia conceived and developed the Creative Expression Activities Program for people living with dementia. The comprehensive program is based on the individual and includes nurturing body/soul and mind aspirations, improving the physical environment, and training family members and caregivers in their daily interactions. The program emphasizes the importance of activities that encourage creative expressions. As a result, it has the potential to reduce anxiety and stress to both client and care partner and increase the quality of life for both.

Creating a Multi-Sensory Experience

images-1First, Dalia creates an environment rich in visual and sound affects, such as pictures of local and foreign birds, which are either from library books, magazines or calendars. She plays birdsong in the background and shows a short video on birds that was borrowed from a local library or downloaded from YouTube. Dalia orchestrates a discussion about the video, asking what Sylvia liked about it and what it made her think about. She asks open-ended questions, such as, “What do you like about birds? What are your favorites? What kind of bird would you like to be?” She spreads feathers on the table for tactile stimulation.

“Since people have different levels of cognitive and physical abilities, I try to engage as many senses as possible,” Dalia says. “That way, I increase the level of communication and involvement. For example, those who cannot hear well may still be able to smell and touch.”

After the conversation, Dalia passes out paper and invites Sylvia to paint or draw with her. They may start a picture in tandem with Dalia asking Sylvia which bird she’d like to draw.images-2

“Doing creative activities together enriches both individuals and the relationship,” Dalia says.

Creative Sparks

• Apply Dalia’s flexible approach to arts activities to any relevant topic that might interest you and your partner.

• Adapt the ideas to meet your partner’s attention span.

• Think of a subject the two of you would enjoy exploring. Have fun collecting photos, music, video clips, and art supplies. If preparation feels too hard, ask a friend to help, or use a simplified version of this activity.

• Introduce the project, mentioning ways you both can participate. Let your partner know, “This is just for fun. There’s no right or wrong way to do this.”

• At least ten minutes before you’re ready to end, let your partner know you’re winding down.

• Work as equals, side by side, encouraging and helping as needed.

• If desired, post your artworks and share with others.

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For more information about Dalia and her work, visit www.cecd-society.org

Consider attending the CECD 7th International Conference, September 8-10, 2016, in Vernon, BC, Canada.

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

COMING SOON: CONNECTING IN THE LAND OF DEMENTIA: CREATIVE ACTIVITIES TO EXPLORE TOGETHER

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Six Easy Steps for Creating Art that Sends a Message

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.                  ~Twyla Tharp

Reverend Katie Norris knows firsthand the power of a welcoming environment. She has learning disabilities and works better in a room free of distractions. When her mom, Carolyn Farrell, was diagnosed with dementia, Katie turned to art as a way to deepen their connection. Her art projects were so satisfying that she wrote a book, Creative Connections in Dementia Care, offering simple and meaningful ideas for engaging through the arts.

Katie grew up going to Montessori schools where everything had a place and the work area was clean. She flourished in that environment and realized her mom would flourish as well.

To prepare the room, Katie removed (or minimized) clutter. She added a lamp to increase the light and reduce shadows. She used brightly colored tablecloths so it was easy to see thetablecloth art paper.

Creating note cards is one of Katie’s favorite projects, since they are fun and easy, and result in a tangible, useful gift. If you have time, you can make a card in advance, so you’ll have an example to share. This is a relaxing activity for people of all abilities and does not require an artistic temperament. The complete recipe for notecards is in Katie’s book.

  • To begin, set out the materials.
  • Fold paper into the desired size. Or you can buy blank cards and envelopes at a hobby store.
  • Decide if you each want to make your own cards. Or you can work together.
  • Use paints or colors to create a free form design. If you’re working with someone who likes more structure, draw some bright lines on the card to form a simple design. They can then paint within and around the design or highlight the picture by outlining it with buttons, glitter, stickers, or paint. Demonstrate the options and leave plenty of space for creative unfolding.
  • Extras include painting the background of the card with a little paint roller, called a brayer brush, adding design with sponge daubers, or gluing on pictures gleaned from old magazines and cards.
  • People also enjoy decorating the envelope.images

The notecards have a variety of uses, depending on the desires of the person living with dementia. You can donate them to churches or children’s hospitals, give them to friends and family, or frame the finished product for display. Or you can send your own notes on it.

“This project works well with an intergenerational group,” Katie says. “We involved our faith community, by asking them to host a button drive for us. That gave us a chance to share the finished products with them.”

Sharing this art helps people understand the vast creativity of those living with dementia.

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For more information about Katie and her book, visit   www.RevKatieNorris.com

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

 

 

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