Tag Archives: communication

Timeless Tunes that Transcend

“It’s really a very simple program, but the results are unbelievable. You watch the film Alive Inside and you think those are just the reactions they chose for the camera, but we really do see instant and unbelievable results from many of those we work with.”     Linsey Norton

Barrick Wilson of Wichita, Kansas, uses music to connect with his beloved wife Kristi.

Kristi showed the first signs of dementia in 2004, when she was only 60 years old. She was diagnosed in 2008 and three years later, Barrick took early retirement so he could care for Kristi fulltime. There were plenty of tough times as Kristi’s disease progressed and music helped ease the issues.  Often Barrick took Kristie for a ride and they’d listen to favorite songs as they tooled along.

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown was one of her favorites,” Barrick says.leroy brown

In the afternoons, they’d sit on the sofa and listen to Golden Oldies together, both singing along. Then Barrick learned about the Roth Project: Music Memories;” (which is similar to Music and Memory) and he signed Kristi up, working with the Central and Western Kansas office of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“I purchased a boxed set of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Broadway musicals, records her parents had listened to when Kristi was growing up,” Barrick says. “I included Jim Croce and Kristi’s grandmother’s favorite hymns.”

imgresBarrick worked hard to develop a playlist that keyed in on Kristi’s emotional memories; volunteers from the Alzheimer’s Association helped load it onto an iPod. Then Barrick had the pleasure of sitting next to Kristi and reveling in her beautiful smile when she put on headphones and heard Some Enchanted Evening.

“The music is a calming influence,” Barrick says.

Kristi is one of a couple hundred people enrolled in the Roth Project through the Central and Western Kansas office of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Our staff offers counseling services to care facilities and to families as to when and how to use the iPod, “ says Linsey Norton, the Association’s Program Director. “We also help care partners notice behavioral cues that allow them to reach for the iPod headphones instead of the anti-anxiety medication. We are working with chapters nationwide to help them develop iPod therapy programs for families in their communities.”

Music helped Kristi when she needed to transition to a memory care unit. The staff offered her headphones and her favorite songs several times a day. Kristi got up and danced when Leroy Brown came on.

imagesBarrick is a pianist and has also incorporated the songs he used to play for Kristi when they were dating. During their courtship, he played the piano in her parents’ living room. Now he sits in the facility’s dining room, his wife by his side, and he plays I’m in the Mood for LoveIf I Loved You and My Funny Valentine. These classic love songs transcend rational thought and create an engineering marvel, a bridge that connects Barrick and Kristi.

Barrick shares this advice for care partners:

  • Find out as much about the disease as you can. Read, watch videos, become friends with the Alzheimer’s Association and listen to their advice.
  • Take your time putting together a playlist that will trigger positive emotional memories for the person living with dementia.
  • Be prepared to join the person with Alzheimer’s in her world. It’s like living in an improv theater; you don’t know what’s coming next.
  • Take care of yourself. If you need help, ask for it.

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

 

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Four Insights for Connecting with Cooking

imgres “Mom, are you ready to help me make your famous meatloaf recipe?’ Stacy asked. Stacey was in town for the weekend, visiting her mom, Alice, and giving her sister a break from caregiving.

Stacy had wanted to take Alice out to eat, but her sister told her, “Mom can get pretty overwhelmed and confused when she’s around a lot of people. Why don’t you stay home and cook with her?”

Her sister was a nurse and seemed at ease with Alice’s diminished memory. But Stacy bit her lip when her sister suggested cooking.

“Think of a family recipe,” her sister advised. “Get all the ingredients organized beforehand and make sure the room is quiet and Mom has a comfortable chair. Once Mom gets started, she can do quite a bit. Just don’t rush her.”

It just so happened Stacy had been craving her mother’s famous meatloaf. That evening, she watched the news while she laid out the bowls, utensils, and ingredients on the table.

“A feast!” Alice exclaimed, as she shuffled into the kitchen. Stacy clicked off the television and said, “It will be a feast, Mom. It’s your meatloaf recipe. Will you help me make it?”

“You used to help me. In Provincetown,” Alice said.images

Stacy’s eyes misted. Sometimes her mom didn’t seem to know who Stacy was and when that happened, Stacy could barely breathe.

“You stood on a chair,” her mom said.

“Wearing Grandma’s apron.” Stacy could see the apron, a frilly flowered chintz with a red ribbon sash.

“This is your grandmother’s recipe,” Alice said. “She lived in Boston, you know, with her older sister.” As she reminisced, Alice cracked and whipped the egg. Then she poured the mixture onto the beef and blended it in with her hands. She sprinkled the breadcrumbs into the meat, added a handful of her secret ingredient—raisins– and plenty of pepper, then mixed it all together.

Stacy gave her mother the pan and Alice expertly shaped the loaf. Then she noticed her messy hands and wiped them on her slacks. “Am I eating dinner with you? Where is the other one?”

“She is out with friends tonight. And yes, you are eating dinner with me.”

“What time will your father get here?”

Stacy looked carefully at her widowed mom and wondered what she should answer.

“It’s just you and me tonight, Mom.”

“Don’t forget the parsley,” Alice said.

While the meatloaf cooked, Stacy brought over some bread dough she’d thawed earlier. Alice had been a phenomenal baker and Stacy still remembered the scintillating taste of her mom’s cinnamon rolls. When Alice saw the dough, she began to knead it. As she kneaded, she talked about the types of bread she’d made when she was a girl. “Even sourdough,” Alice said. “Our cousin brought a starter from San Francisco and we were all a buzz.”

“Which cousin, Mom?”

“Oh that Gertrude. You remember her, always dolled up and always flirting with the men. But she could bake a good dinner roll.”

“What was your favorite thing to bake?”

Alice slid her hands over the rolling pin and rolled the dough thin. Then she tore it into little tadpole shapes, one of their favorite childhood treats.

“Remember, Stacy doesn’t like hers burned,” her mom cautioned.

Stacy smiled.

Even though her mother ate little and fell asleep at the dinner table, Stacy felt like the evening was a success.

cooking 2“Cooking together can help family members connect in the kitchen,” says Kate Williams, LMSW,Care Counselor/Social Worker, Henry Ford Health System Collaborative, Alzheimer’s Association Greater Michigan Chapter. “The act of preparing food can draw on long term memory and trigger activities people have done in the past.”

Since the care partner needs to make meals anyway, working together offers a low-stress way to accomplish a task and a chance to relive family and food memories. People want to be useful and have a purpose; Kate believes creating food for and with someone meets that need.

For a successful cooking experience, Kate offers these tips:

· When designing cooking activities, consider the person and their current skills. Make sure the number of steps is appropriate to his or her level of memory loss.

· Give them as much independence as possible and be ready to help as needed.

· Create an environment with few distractions.

· Prepare the food and cooking utensils, so everything is at the ready. If possible, using the same type of equipment they used in the past.

Even for those who can’t really follow directions, the sensory experience of handling food can be connective and comforting. Cooking projects engage the senses, invite memories, offer a sense of completion and purpose, and are nurturing for both care partners.

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

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Six Creative Thoughts on Acceptance

letting go of control

Recently we have had the pleasure of talking to people from various Alzheimer’s Associations. One piece of wisdom many of them have shared:   Accept persons living with dementia as they are, without trying to change them.

Here are a few quotes that remind us of the power of acceptance and an inspiring story from Annabelle Montoya of the Alzheimer’s Association, New Mexico Chapter.

Click here to hear a great story from Annabelle

accepting life as it isAcceptance

 

patiencehappiness

     monkey with bird

 

 

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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The Power of the Dedicated Listener

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I missed my mother and I missed being around people who have Alzheimer’s. So I volunteered to visit people living in a memory care unit.

Donna greeted me warmly. She wore a man’s plaid shirt, black sweat pants and worn tennis shoes. She was lean and restless, her hands a nest one moment and a flying bird the next.

“She likes to talk,” was all the staff told me.

She noticed my orange shirt and I told her it was seersucker.

“Yes, he had a suit,” she said. Her gaze was earnest and her words seemed urgent. Listening to her was an archaeological experience: hills of dust and sand with an occasional gem of a multi-syllable word.

“I knew they needed to triangulate,” she told me. “But then the 466 of them fell into the 375.”

She looked into my eyes as she spoke and I tried to intuit what she was telling me.imgres-1

The aide who introduced me hadn’t known anything about Donna’s background and I wondered if she’d been an accountant, manager, or entrepreneur.

“How did you feel about that triangulation?”  I asked.

“Not good.”

”Tell me more about that.”

She offered a stream of eroded words, with major letters worn away.

As we talked, I felt I was dog paddling through rough seas, clinging onto whole words and struggling to understand her. But maybe I was trying too hard.

At the end of her time together, she smiled.

“Good,” she said. “This was good.”

Maybe it was enough for her to talk and have a dedicated listener.

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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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