Listening to favorite songs. Singing. Conducting an imaginary orchestra. Looking at art. Cooking and baking. Laughing. These are just a few of the topics we discussed when presenting to care partners in St. Thomas.  

Recently we gathered with professional and family care partners, along with friends and advocates, to share ideas for staying connected through the dementia and care partners’ journey.

Everyone lit up as we all thought of favorite songs that carried positive memories. These “personal playlist” songs are the foundation of the internationally acclaimed Music & Memory program (https://musicandmemory.org) developed by Dan Cohen and beautifully documented in the movie Alive Inside. As we moved on to singing, one woman described how her mother still knew all the words to her favorite hymns. Another attendee, who had a daughter with special needs, described how singing allowed her daughter to find and keep her voice. Maestro David Dworkin would have relished the zest with which our group practiced his dynamic Conductorcize program. We sang the melody to When the Saints Come Marching In, and conducted away, raising our arms, our voices, and almost, the roof.

“What about cooking and baking?” one woman asked. “How can my mother continue her passion for those when she can no longer use the stove?” 

Ron and I both identified with that question, as our moms had been avid bakers. We talked about a variety of ways to stay safely engaged in creating food, including setting up a quiet table just outside the kitchen for making dishes together. We discussed the joys of measuring, blending, chopping, and stirring, while carrying on a companionable conversation. Making fruit and vegetable salads, snapping green beans, icing cupcakes, making cookies serve as a few delicious examples. There are so many ways we can adapt hobbies and add in creativity and the arts so all of us can live with meaning and purpose.  ###

Many thanks to Arleen Evans O’Reilly, Sandra Bradley, and their team for hosting us.                               And thanks to Sandra Bradley for taking the photos.

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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