Tag Archives: creativity

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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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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At Long Last: A Page-Turning Love Story

2005_3_comptxMy hands trembled as I reached out my arms. For three long years I’d been working toward this meeting and yearning for this moment. Now, it was finally here. She was more beautiful than I had imagined, with a pleasing weight, just right for holding, just right for spending long hours with. From a glance, her personality seemed strong and purposeful and yet her warm, colorful exterior told me she would be easy to read.  As she gradually opened up to me, I felt her power, her accessibility, her willingness to share ideas and wisdom. She felt great; she looked great; and she was brimming with exciting new ideas. Three long years and finally, she was in my arms. I hugged her tightly. At last I was holding my new book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together

What makes this book unique? It’s the amazing people who contributed to it. During the writing process, I interviewed dozens of innovators across the globe, gathering ideas that engage the creative spirit so you can continue to experience meaningful moments throughout the dementia journey. These luminaries inspired me every step of the way and I am eager to share their ideas with you.

This book is brimming with easy projects using music, art, movies, cooking, gardening, and more. Here are some of the benefits you can look forward to when you do these activities together: Increased energy and socialization, an improved sense of purpose, reduced anxiety, and chances to express yourselves in new and meaningful ways.

Here’s even more good news about the ideas in this book. They’re adaptable for all ages and abilities, and you don’t need to have any special talents. Simply incorporate them into your daily routine and you’ll enrich your time together.

Marc Wortmann, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Disease International, called the book “A ‘must read’ for every care partner because it really helps you to look at things differently!”

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If you’re in the Kansas City area, please join us for the book launch on Sunday afternoon, October 9th, at 1:30 for a reception in the Truman Forum at the Plaza Library. The free presentation will begin at 2:00  This lively program, filled with ideas, stories, and songs,  features myself and my partner Ron Zoglin, musical luminaries Rod Fleeman and Cynthia Schroer, and guest speaker Michelle Niedens from the Heart of America Chapter, Alzheimer’s Association.

RSVP 816-701-3407 

For those of you in the Washington DC area, please join us at the free Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Caregiver’s Conference on Thursday September 29. We’ll be presenting there, along with other experts in the field. Click here to register.

We recently heard from several readers, saying, “This book is going to help so many people. I’m recommending it to my friends and colleagues.”

That’s what this is all about: enriching people’s lives through meaningful engagement.

It’s a challenge, bringing a new book into the world and we welcome your ideas and help in spreading the word about the book and the event.

You can order a copy now from Rainy Day Books, our book-seller for the event, or online.

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Here is some advanced praise:

“A thoughtful and positive guide to the very thing I find myself constantly advocating to doctors, caregivers, and family members—social stimulation and creative arts will limit the need for psychiatric medication and improve the quality of life for those with dementia more than anything else.”   Doug Wornell, MD, Life Solutions Group for Geriatric and Neurological Psychiatry

“Buy this book, read it, highlight what inspires you. As you make notes and bend pages to personalize this guide, you are creating a family treasure.” Carol Bradley Burdock, Founder of Minding Our Elders

“Deborah Shouse provides a great public service by shining light on the numerous creative activities that can meaningfully engage the minds and spirits of persons living with dementia. From personalized music to storytelling, Shouse makes it easy for caregivers to understand the various options they have to help their loved ones navigate through their everyday lives.”  Dan Cohen, MSW  Founding Executive Director, MUSIC & MEMORYsm

 

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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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