Tag Archives: nature

A Unique Opportunity to Learn from Creative Pioneers

imgres-2I just received this webinar invitation from Garuth Chalfont, who is a pioneer in using nature with those who are living with dementia. I interviewed Garuth for my upcoming book and he is filled with great ideas. I am going to attend his free webinar and I thought it could be of interest to you. Please feel free to share this with others. It’s a unique opportunity to learn from innovators in this creative field.

http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fhm/research/centre-for-ageing-research/#newsampevents  Click on the link and simply scroll down to “Non-drug Treatments to Intervene and Prevent Dementia.”  To register, email Jan and she will put you on the list.

Meanwhile, these tips from Garuth are featured in Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together, which comes out in September.

“Research shows that nature-based activity is therapeutic and is essentially a form of treatment for dementia symptoms, helping a person remain at home longer,” says Garuth Chalfont PhD, American Society of Landscape Architects, and author of the Dementia Green Care Handbook. (You can download this book for free by going to Garuth’s website: www.chalfontdesign.com/   Garuth is internationally known for his work in designing, building and researching gardens that benefit people with dementia. He also partners with care facilities and families, helping them integrate nature into their living quarters and their outdoors.

Gathering flowers, walking a tree-lined sidewalk, plucking a cherry tomato off its vine, watering a house plant, gazing out the window at chiimages-1ckadees—these meaningful natural activities increase pleasure, relaxation, social interactions, and sensory stimulation.

“Enjoying the garden goes beyond just walking around,” Garuth says.

Imagine you’re hosting a guided tour of your yard. What is the most thrilling part of your lawn? A blooming rose bush? A bird bath? A wise old fir tree?

“By creating a tour, you’re taking a new look at your environment. You’re telling a story and engaging your partner,” Garuth says.

Stir up conversation by focusing on one area at a time. Perhaps discuss the hanging bird feeder. Or a seashell you two found on your last vacation. Then observe the birdbath or other water feature. Do you have a bench? Sit down and talk about what you see. Create a wow ending with something that is fun and dramatic, such as a ceramic gnome peeking from behind a rock. Seeing your yard as a living story may inspire you to add in a playful spinner, a cute stone animal, or a beautiful rock. imgres





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


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Three Star-Studded Tips: The Creativity of Being a Care Partner


starry night“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”   Vincent Van Gogh

Several years ago, we spent an evening in Zion National Park in Utah looking for shooting stars.

“There’s one,” someone said.

“I see it!” someone else said.

I saw only the regular stars, which were also gorgeous but not quite as exciting.

“I can’t see any shooting stars,” I finally confessed.

“Here’s how you spot a shooting star,” our friend Ron told me. “You soften and widen your gaze and stare off into the middle distance. You’re looking at everything and nothing. That way you’re open to that sudden flash of light and movement.”

I didn’t see the flash of light from a shooting star that evening, but I did have an idea flash. Looking for shooting stars is like inviting out creativity. You open up your focus, relax, put yourself in receiving, daydreaming mode and wait for something marvelous.


For me, the art of being a care partner was an exceedingly creative endeavor. Much of the time was fraught with focus, dedicated to detail. But when I remembered to soften and widen my gaze, I was able to see my mom for the star she was, even when she seemed light years away from me.


Here are some tips for your own personal “star-gazing:”

Sit quietly with the person living with dementia. If appropriate, hold hands.

Let go of  your history and your expectations. Appreciate her just as she is.

Open your mind and heart: be receptive to whatever flashes of light may come your way. Be happy even if you think nothing particular has happened.

For me, this was a rich way to connect with Mom when she was without words. Just sitting still renewed me, and ideas and memories often bubbled up.

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

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A Caregiver’s Gift from Her Mother

Recently, I met Cynthia and her mother, Frances. I was so inspired by their story and I wanted to share it with you.


Some people steal away to a day spa so they can slow down and relax. Others take a vacation or immerse themselves in a meditation retreat. Cynthia Robinson, age 61, didn’t have time for any of those options. It was 2010, and as she was trying to build her consulting practice, she realized her 88-year-old mother, who lived alone, had memory problems. When Cynthia took her mother to a neurologist, the diagnosis was mild cognitive impairment, which for many is a precursor to Alzheimer’s.

Cynthia was thrust into the role of primary caregiver.


“Initially, I felt irritated and a little resentful,” she said. “I loved my mother but I didn’t want caring for her to take up so much of my time.”

Deciding What Was Most Important In Life

Cynthia had to decide what was most important.  Was it taking care of her mother or building her business? She analyzed her situation; her husband was retired and they could get by on his income.

“I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take care of Mom,” she said. She had another reason: she felt she could be at risk for Alzheimer’s. “I wanted to model caring behavior so my daughters and husband would know how to act if I ever developed this disease,” she said.

Cynthia wanted to think of ways her mom could feel valuable and really loved and she experimented with these concepts:

Slow Down

She slowed down to her mother’s pace. She didn’t bring her computer over to her mom’s house; she didn’t talk on her cell phone or check her emails and texts. “I tried to patiently experience my mom’s world,” she said.

 slow down

Listen Lovingly and Learn

Even though she sometimes bit her lip in frustration as her mom endlessly repeated the same story, Cynthia practiced really listening to her mom’s tales.

“Once I did this, I heard stories I’d never heard before,” she said. “ I learned some meaningful family history.”

Experience the Sensory Beauty of the Present

“I had never paid attention to the millions of shades of bright green,” Cynthia said. “But Mom notices sensory things and we talk about the colors, the flowers and the trees. She keeps me in the here and now.”


Seek Interesting Solutions

Normally, Cynthia’s mom would never wear a hat. But her long hair was thinning and Cynthia bought her a cute cap. Her mom was delighted by the gift and whenever she wore it, she received compliments.

Find New Common Ground

Cynthia installed birdfeeders at her mom’s house. Enjoying the ever-changing array of birds increased her mom’s quality of life and gave them a new topic of conversation.


Delighting in Her Mother’s Gifts

The more Cynthia slowed down and stayed in the present with her mom, the more she appreciated her mother’s wisdom and serenity. Her mother repeatedly told her, “People are about as cheerful as they make up their minds to be.”

“ My mother once guided me through the experience of being a parent,” Cynthia said. “Now, she’s guiding me in the experience of how to make the best of Alzheimer’s.”

**Who are your unexpected guides? What fascinating lessons are you learning on your journey?

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Admiring the Plastic Frogs: A Tool for Creatively Navigating the Caregiver’s Journey

“There’s the frog. There’s the ladybug.” My two year old grandson Robert is pointing excitedly to a green plastic frog poised to devour a plastic ladybug. The sun illuminates the spider web that stretches across my neighbor’s small front yard pond and waterfall, a fasicinating place that Robert avidly visits every time he comes over.

waterfall 2

Robert never tires of discussing the various frogs, lizards, giant ants, snakes and butterflies that our neighbor has carefully placed around his pond’s perimeter. We count the lizards and marvel at the new scary black spider. We notice the bubbles as the water cascades down its rocky slope and we marvel at the large frog that’s taking a shower. One miniature yellow frog perches across the pond on a flat rock while a turtle bathes serenely several rocks up.

Although they are seemingly inanimate objects, under Robert’s vivid scrutiny they come to life. Each time, we notice something different and we admire something familiar. Each time Robert visits, I can’t wait to go to the waterfall with him.

Noticing Can Lead to Understanding

Robert intuitively knows something that I had to struggle to learn: just noticing and speaking aloud the details can lead to understanding and admiration.

One summer, Ron and I went on a spiritual retreat and the teacher gave us this exercise. “Go on a noticing walk,” he told us. “Take turns simply reporting out loud on what you see.”

At first, it seemed silly and awkward to say, “I see a red barn,” or “I see a mica rock.” But after about ten minutes, our noticing became more natural.  As we reported the sights, the intricacy and important importance of each object seemed to sink into us. We walked more slowly, eager to appreciate our environment.


Using Awareness on the Caregiver’s Journey

Years later, when my mother was deep into Alzheimer’s, I remembered that walking exercise and decided to use it on a visit to her.

At first, I felt an emotional charge as I walked up to the Memory Care Unit and “noticed” the keypad that let me into the area, a keypad that symbolized the locked unit, the loss of freedom, the decline of my mother.  I had to take a breath and remind myself, “This exercise isn’t about symbology; this is simply an observational experience.”


My mom was asleep when I reached her room and I sat down and began quietly looking at her. I noticed her silver curly hair. “I see pink fingernails,” I murmured. “I see a woman wearing a navy blue sweatshirt.” I slowed myself down and noted the details of the room, each one interesting in its own right.  By the time my mother stretched and awakened, I was right there, grounded by the simple act of noticing, ready to look into her eyes and meet her wherever she was. The awareness exercise had slowed me down and opened me up.

Take Ten and Appreciate

What can you more deeply appreciate through noticing? It’s fun to take ten minutes and just report to yourself on the objects around you. It’s even more fun to do this with someone. And if you’re lucky enough to have a child and a pond, get ready for a delightful experience.

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Noticing The Perfect Moment: Adding Joy to the Caregiver’s Journey

One Friday in August, I looked out our kitchen window and saw something I had always wanted to see: a Barred Owl.owl 1

All my life, I had admired owls in zoos and animal parks but I had never seen one in nature. This bird was resting on a branch of our giant oak tree only 15 feet away from me. I stared in awe as he lifted his claw and scratched the side of his face, then swiveled his head from side to side and ruffled his feathers. I ran upstairs to get my partner Ron and together we watched the owl like he was an award-winning documentary.

“I have to get back to work,” I told Ron and he nodded. We both returned to our home offices but it was hard to concentrate knowing such a powerful bird was nearby.  We looked up owls on-line and learned they represent wisdom, intuition, and magic. One person wrote, “Owls give us the power to see that which is hidden to the naked eye.”

Drinking in Every Movement

Already, we were under the animal’s charismatic magic spell. Every 15 minutes I took a break to commune with the bird. Once a butterfly fluttered around the owl’s head and the owl followed its movements like a child would watch soap bubbles. Every movement was interesting to me. The owl slept; with its great eyes hooded its face seemed empty. Upon awakening, it stretched its wondrous wings (a wing-span of almost four feet, our bird book reported) and preened. I gazed at the owl and the owl stared at me as if looking deep inside my soul.barred_owl 2

During the course of the day, several friends and neighbors came over to view the winged visitor. They were as excited, mystified and awestruck as we were.

As I marveled at the beautiful brown and white patterning on the owl’s chest, I remembered my first glimpse of such a creature: at a pottery store in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I was 14 when my family vacationed at a friend’s cabin in the Smoky Mountains.  One day we went into town, ate at a fried chicken restaurant and toured the pottery factory. My brother and I were each allowed to select one item from the seconds’ table and I chose a small Barred Owl. I loved the whimsical, serene and profound look on the figurine’s face. Though I had saved very few things from my childhood that souvenir was still with me. Miraculously, I knew right where it was. I walked into the living room and took the small clay object off the mantel. I held it in both hands and closed my eyes, hoping for a profound insight or mystical moment.

0wl 5

None came; just the special joy I always feel in the presence of birds.

Appreciating the Beginning and the Ending

That evening, before we went out to meet friends, Ron and I peered through the kitchen window and said goodbye to our owl.

“We hope we see you tomorrow,” we said.

Early the next morning, I ran breathlessly to the kitchen. The tree was empty; the owl was gone. My sense of loss was quickly replaced by a feeling of gratitude. We had experienced the miracle of winged wisdom and I knew that owl would be with me for a long, long time.

The Daily Challenge For Caregivers and All of Us: Finding the Moments

That Friday it was easy to notice the perfect moments. Other days, it’s more complicated. Part of my creative challenge to myself is to notice the magic in every day, even a day that’s prone to mundanity or challenges.

How about you? How do you notice the gifts in each day? What are some of your perfect moments?




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