Skip to content

Posts Tagged ‘care partners’

Silent Films Inspire Peals of Laughter at KC Movies & Memories

There is something wonderfully connective about watching silent comedies by two of the world’s greats—Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton. Those black and white classics make you want to laugh, reminisce, and act a little silly yourself. And when there’s a pianist on hand, punctuating the wit and melodrama, the experience is even more compelling. Those silent films inspired peals of laughter at August’s KC Movies & Memories at the Plaza Library.

First, our guest musician, Kenny Harrison, engaged us in a lively sing-a-long. Then we watched One Week, a Buster Keaton masterpiece. Thomas Cooke is a retired professor of film. He and his wife Deborah spent hours previewing the iconic comedians, picking out three clips just for our program. For anyone who has ever tried to repair or build anything, this short film is a must. Next, Charlie Chaplain entertained us with Oceana Roll. “Charlie’s friends wanted him to do the roll dance every time he dined with them,” Thomas told us. Finally, we were on the edges of our seats with a clip from Modern Times. Note: Roller skate indoors at your own peril. 

Click here to enjoy some moments from this entertaining event.

In between films, we talked about the movies and how we related to them. One of our guests was a carpenter. Others had experiences with home repairs. We all marveled when Thomas told us that Keaton did all his own stunts. 

The movies stayed on our minds for several days. In fact, at dinner two nights later, we tried with Oceana fork dance with cucumbers.  (Where are the dinner rolls when you need them?) It was a lot harder than it looked. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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.

CITLOD very smallLove in the Land of Dementia_cover

 Using Nature to Connect with Creativity and Generations: KC Memory Cafe

The tables are scattered with pine cones, sycamore leaves, and decorative branches, along with bottles of glue, vivid construction paper, and pots of colorful paint. Our KC Memory Cafe begins with sharing memories of camping, scouting, or outdoor activities. Then a lively group of Girl Scouts leads us in song, reminding us to, “Make new friends, But keep the old, One is silver, And the other gold.” 

After our singalong, cafe guests experiment with the art supplies and natural objects. They dip pine cones into red paint and brush blue across crusty leaves. They paint a stick bright orange and wrap it with yarn. The Girl Scouts weave through the artists, pouring extra paint, distributing additional papers, and assisting when asked. The guests work, admire, chat, and laugh as these creative projects emerge. By the end of the cafe, the tables are covered with innovative art and people are smiling as they return home. 

Click here for a look at our cafe.

 

Want to introduce more nature into your lives?

“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.       

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

Here are a few other ideas:

• Create observation spots in your living space so you can enjoy looking outdoors. Even watching the weather helps people feel engaged in the natural environment.

• Improve your view with interesting additions, such as bird feeders and birdhouses, bubbling fountains, wind chimes, wind spinners, outdoor sculpture, and various plants and herbs. 

• Add resilient plants to your home.

• Bring in natural objects to touch, identify, arrange, draw and craft with. 

• Visit garden centers, parks, playgrounds, and zoos for a rich natural experience.

• Increase your popularity by taking a dog with you on a walk, either your own or borrow your neighbor’s pup. 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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.

CITLOD very smallLove in the Land of Dementia_cover

Huzzah! RenFest Stars Present at KC Memory Cafe

A wizard, a peasant, a royal hat maker, and a royal candy maker walked into the Plaza Library. But they were not here to check out books on their respective trades: they were with several other RenFest stars, eager to present at the KC Memory Cafe. 

Mia Moore shared the inside story of getting into her complicated costume as the Renfest character of Molly William, Lady Steward of the Household. First, she slipped on a gauzy white under-blouse with an appealing ruff around the neck. Then, she created a luscious hour-glass shape by putting on a corset. In the olden days, the corsets were made with whale bones. But Mia was ecologically correct and chose industrial cables for hers. A wide brown skirt, made of upholstery materials, was next, followed by a lady’s doublet, with dozens of small fabric covered buttons. Getting all buttoned up took at least ten minutes, and she kept us quite entertained throughout the process. Her final adornment was a jaunty hat.

Click here to get the RenFest inside story.

“It wouldn’t be proper to go around with my hair uncovered. Plus, during the Renaissance, people didn’t bathe that often. Their hair might be dirty and lice-ridden, which the hat kindly covered,” she told us.

As each of the performers shared information about their characters, we could feel their passion for history and for this fascinating time period. 

The wizard assured us, he would never walk about London with his high pointed burlap hat and his quartz-topped staff; for that, he would have been locked up in a mental hospital. Instead, he would have lived in a rural setting and been considered an alchemist. The peasant told us, “The amount of cloth in a middle class woman’s skirt would be enough for me and my family for a year.”  

Cloth was quite valuable and all fabrics were recycled and passed down, mended and amended until they were nothing but scraps. 

How often does a person have a chance to touch an ostrich feather fan or stroke the soft pink velvet of the royal candy maker’s doublet? Our performers walked about the room, greeting individuals, sharing stories about their characters and clothing, and letting us examine their specially made costumes.

It was a glorious experience, rich with history, energy, and imagination.

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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.

CITLOD very smallLove in the Land of Dementia_cover

Laughing All the Way: Boosting Health and Happiness 

“When You Laugh, you change, 

and when you change the whole world changes.” 

          -Dr Madan Kataria, MD, Founder Laughter Yoga Movement

 

We were warmly welcomed into a parlor area, reminiscent of an elegantly aging aunt’s apartment. A piano waited patiently along one wall. There was a colorful bowl of fruit and a tempting array of pastries and fruit-infused waters. As we waited, we looked out into an outdoor garden and picnic area.  The 80th Street Residency, a memory care community in Manhattan, created a warm, home-like atmosphere for its residents. Ron and I had come here to offer a laughter yoga class, hoping to boost our participants’ health and happiness. We worked with their activities coordinator, Jackie LaBau.

Here’s what we’ve learned about laughter yoga: often people look, act, and feel differently after they’ve experienced a session. There is a magic about intentionally laughing with a group. The experience of breathing, clapping, engaging in playful imaginings, and of course, laughing, soon softens the spirits. People feel energetic and connected.  Everyone, including staff, residents, and us, leave feeling happier. That’s what happened  in New York,  just as it has every time Ron and I have led laughing sessions.  

Back home in Kansas City, we laughed with the lively people at Jeanne’s Place, CareHaven’s day program for people living with early stage dementia. We have laughed with these wonderful folks before, and now they start giggling when we walk in. 

We also visited Mandy Shoemaker and her team at Prairie Eider Care, our area’s only Eden Alternative homes, and we had fun admiring their outdoor barnyard collection of silky chickens, a potbellied pig, and sassy ducks. Then we settled into their welcoming living areas.  We sat in intergenerational circles with staff, family members, and residents, talking, singing, and laughing.

Dr. Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, believes that inviting out our childlike energy and acting playfully is vital to living a balanced and healthy life. Plus, it’s tremendous fun. He says: “Laughter Yoga is an aerobic workout that helps uplift your mood within minutes by releasing endorphins from your brain cells. You often remain energized, relaxed, and in good spirits throughout the day. Laughter also makes our immune system stronger, increases oxygen intake, and reduces stress. Plus laughing with others builds a social bond and reduces feelings of isolation.”

In our groups, we created laughter milkshakes, with each person choosing their favorite flavor of ice cream. We looked at each other, waved, and laughed. We had a lot of dog lovers in our groups, so we imagined how a chihuahua would laugh. A member of the nursing team loved large dogs and she helped us to guffaw like a Great Dane. Most of our group loved baseball, so we sang, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” then substituted the words with “Ha Ha “ syllables, otherwise known as the Ha Ha Chorus. That chorus works for any familiar song and tickles your funny bone.

Ron and I learned Laughter Yoga from the amazing Robert Rivest, who is a master trainer and who studied with Dr. Kataria. But you don’t need to be a trained facilitator to bring more laughter into your life.

Quick Tips for Adding Laughter into the Day

•Look at the clock and laugh for one minute.

•When driving, laugh during red lights.

•When working out, pick a couple of exercises, such as squats and curls, and laugh while you’re doing them. (Want to get others laughing? Do this at the gym!)

•Use the “ha ha chorus” to bring giggles into your life. Take any song and substitute “ha ha ha’s” for the words. This works well in the shower, car, on walks and more.

Want to laugh more? 

Visit laughteryoga.org and robertrivest.com 

Contact Deborah Shouse and Ron Zoglin: 816-361-7878  Email myinfo@pobox.com Website: DemeniaJourney.org

If you are part of a memory care community in the KC area and you’d like to gift your residents with laughter, feel free to reach out to us at creativity@pobox.com 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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.

CITLOD very smallLove in the Land of Dementia_cover

Some Enchanted Beautiful Morning: Movies & Memories Celebrates Inclusion

The buzz of conversation ceased as singer/actor Robert Gibby Brand stepped up to the microphone. His accompanist, pianist Robert Pherigo, played the opening bars of Oh, What a Beautiful Morning and Brand soared into the “Bright golden haze on the meadow.” Instantly the audience, ages two to 85 plus, was listening raptly. Brand continued his concert, inviting us to sing along on It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, and melting us with the Cole Porter classic Night and Day. Brand told us the story behind each song and left us wildly applauding after performing Some Enchanted Evening.  It was some enchanted beautiful morning at the monthly KC Movies & Memories program. 

But the enchantment didn’t stop there. First we watched the Oscar nominated short, Room on the Broom, which illustrated the joys and challenges of inclusion in a most creative, playful, and poignant way. 

One of the characters said plaintively, “I am a bird, as green as can be. Is there room on the broom, for a bird like me?” The witch’s clingy cat captured that part in most of us that doesn’t want to share, that believes there is not enough. But the witch reminded us, “Yes, there is room.”

Afterwards we discussed the movie, asking who identified with the clingy cat. All of us had to raise our hands. Then we asked who identified with the witch, who welcomed everyone, and there was a large showing of hands.  We also talked about favorite characters and what parts of the film we liked best.  

 

 

To finish our mini film-fest, we played an inspiring clip from a Mr. Rogers show, and showed Purl, an 8-minute Pixar film, about how our differences can enrich our lives. 

It was an inspiring program and everyone left uplifted and delightfully sated by our fresh-made popcorn and other treats.

For a taste of Some Enchanted Beautiful Morning, click here. 

A big thanks to our volunteers, Sharon, Julie, and Pam, and to our generous hosts, The Plaza Library.  

Want to continue the magic at home?

Room on the Broom is a 20-minute  film that is fun for all ages, while being both entertaining and profound. You can easily generate open-ended questions and invite comments and conversation. We talked about, “If you were an animal, which animal would you like to be?” “Who did you identify with?” “What were your favorite parts of the movie?” “Have you ever not wanted to share?”

Want to continue the magic with us?  Mark your calendars for the first Wednesday of each month at 10:30. Please join us for our next cafe and our next movie program.  For more information, contact Deborah at creativity@pobox.com 

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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.

CITLOD very smallLove in the Land of Dementia_cover

Musing Together: Looking at Art  Expands Skills, Increases Socialization, and Widens Horizons

The group pauses in front of a large contemporary sculpture, depicting a preacher standing before his congregation at a small country church.  They walk around the piece, noticing the pews, the organist, and the variety of parishioners, and chatting as they view. Then they settle into chairs and co-facilitator Esther Smith asks: “What is one word that comes to mind when you look at this piece of art.”

 

“Boring,’ says one woman.

“What makes it boring?” Esther asks.

“It brings me back to my childhood, when I was stuck in church for hours,” she answers. “I was so bored.”

A few others nod. Someone asks, “When was this made? Where is it from?” and the conversation about the art continues.

Every month at the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, Teaching Artist Esther Smith guides a group of care partners and people living with dementia on a 90-minute gallery exploration called Musings Together. 

“It’s a light-hearted, interactive experience,” Esther says. “We go at a slow pace, seeing only three to four works each time. We want people to have a comfortable, personalized experience with art.”

The open-ended conversation brings out people’s stories and ideas. Sitting in front of Giovanni Bellini’s Madona and Child, Esther asks, “What lines do you notice in this painting? Trace them in the air with your hand.”

After people trace their lines, she asks, “What line was most interesting to you?” That question might lead into a discussion of what makes this painting different. Then Esther might invite the group to pose like the picture. She might say, “How would that baby’s head feel in your hand?”

“These simple prompts launch us into deep conversations,” Esther says. She and her team are experimenting with expanding the sensory experience, including bringing out oranges when they’re gazing at a still life of fruit and letting each guest hold and examine the orange. Esther also invites people to occasionally sketch an aspect of a drawing that appeals to them, using a drawing pad on a clipboard. 

“ A number of our participants have never been regular museum-goers. Now they feel comfortable here and come more often,” Esther says. “Developing a new community of friends and an expanding interest in art enriches their lives.”    #

Want to look at art with someone who is living with dementia?

If you’re visiting a museum, focus on a gallery with 3-4 large and interesting pieces. Ask a docent for advice, if needed. If you’re at home, give yourself plenty to time to comfortably view a few works of art on-line or in books. 

  • Bring a folding chair, so you can sit.
  • Chose a time of day when your partner is energetic and the gallery is relatively quiet.
  • Have fun just noticing the aspects of the piece. You might invite comments on colors, textures, familiar figures, objects that seem odd to you, and other aspects. 
  • Ask open-ended questions, such as, “What does this piece make you think of?” “What do you like about this piece?” “How do you think that main guy feels?” 

When attention wanes, move onto something else, including a lovely coffee or tea break.   

Click to view informative and inspiring short videos on our YouTube channel

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.

CITLOD very smallLove in the Land of Dementia_cover

Quality Moments in the Land of Dementia: Laughing and Creativity in Jamaica 

Our hosts started the program with a beautiful hymn of gratitude, a perfect way to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of connecting and laughing in the land of dementia. We met in the Salvation Army Church and Community Centre in historic downtown Falmouth, Jamaica, with a group of caregivers and community advocates. During our time together, we shared stories, information, laughter exercises, and creative ideas for taking care of ourselves and staying engaged.

For many, this was an introduction to dementia. For others, who were in the midst of caregiving, this was a time of learning and sharing. 

Ron and I talked about the importance of accepting each other as we are, no matter what we are going through. We discussed the power of having a purpose and how vital it is for all of us to have meaningful relationships and interesting experiences. . 

”When communicating with people who are living with dementia, don’t argue,” Shirley Duncan reminded everyone. “Don’t criticize. Be there to support and appreciate.” 

“When we are kind to ourselves, then we are better able to be kind to others,” one of our attendees said.

We discussed Dr. Cameron Camp’s concept of cognitive ramps, offering people the assistance they need to remain engaged in the activities they love. Here’s one example from our session: Lorna’s mother was a professional cook, completely at home in the kitchen. As her dementia progressed, she could no longer remember the family’s favorite recipes. But she could sit in the kitchen and enjoy the energy of cooking. And when Lorna’s daughter said, “We are going to make your famous stew. Does it have an onion in it?”  the mother smiled and nodded. Ingredient by ingredient, they consulted her, and she smiled and nodded at the mention of the right ingredients. Even though she wasn’t physically creating the meal, she was an integral part of the process.

We talked about the power of music, sharing ideas from Dan Cohen’s Music and Memory program and introduced people to the personal playlist.  We had an impromptu Conductorcise session, using Maestro David Dworkin’s aerobic and ground-breaking program, pretending we were conducting a symphony orchestra. We used laughter syllables to make it even more fun and soon everyone was standing up and conducting and laughing.

We shared a story from Karen Stobbe, reminding us all to affirm and appreciate and to use the improv technique, “Yes and…” to ignite and invite conversation. 

Throughout our discussion, we wove in laughter exercises.

We enjoyed an imaginary laughter swim. We batted around laughter balloons and cooked up a laughter stew that included fish, pumpkin, garlic, carrots, Irish potatoes and okra. 

At the end, we breathed in our gratitudes, closed our eyes and sent our feelings of love, connection, and laughter into the world, hopefully to help and inspire others. 

Click here for a small taste of this lively workshop:

A special thanks for the dementia advocates and community volunteers who brought everything together, including Dundeen Ferguson, Shirley Duncan,  Sandra Latibeaudiere, Elise Thomas, and Lorna Colley. And thanks to everyone who attended.

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.

CITLOD very small

Love in the Land of Dementia_cover

 

Laughing for Health and Happiness in St. Thomas

The people of St. Thomas have been through a lot and many are still recovering from Hurricane Maria. But despite the hardships, they were ready to laugh for health and happiness. We were delighted to be working with our friend Arleen Evans O’Reilly, Director of the Family Caregiver Support Program, offering a laughter yoga class in St. Thomas. We met at the senior center and had a wonderful time facilitating laughter with seniors, caregivers, and people who are living with dementia. CLICK HERE to  experience a glimpse of our session.

We have been experimenting with making our laughter sessions increasingly interactive. We invited our attendees to suggest ingredients for the stew and it included chicken, pumpkin, onions, carrots, potatoes, and bullion. After we added and stirred, we tasted and it was both delicious and “funny” tasting. 

For our milkshake, we first asked people what ice cream they want to use. We had a lot of chocolate lovers. A few enjoyed vanilla and strawberry. We also had fans of praline cream, banana, and cherry Garcia. We held an imaginary container in one hand and we poured milk with the other hand and and said, “Ha ha ha.” After doing that three times, we scooped in our ice cream three times, adding in laughter syllables. Then, with both hands, we shook and laughed. Finally, we tasted and enjoyed a good giggle.  

Ron and I continue to explore ways to add more laughter into our every day lives. The benefits of sustained intentional laughter include reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, boosting the immune system, increasing oxygen to the brain, creating a sense of connection and community, and increasing feelings of happiness. Plus, laughter offers us aerobic exercise. 

Here are some of the way we’re adding extra laughter into the day:

  • Laughing while we exercise. Squats are much more fun when you’re giggling as you do them.
  • Adding laughter activities in while we walk.
  • Singing “Ha Ha” syllables to favorite tunes. Even a simple, Row Row Row Your Boat, with Ha ha syllables, makes us laugh.
  • Looking at the clock and deciding, “We’re going to laugh for one minute.”

We often visit Robert Rivest’s site for short ten-minute laughter videos, which cheer us onward. Laughteryoga.org offers more great resources. And we have fun creating our own laughter activities. If you have laughing ideas you want to share, we’d love to hear from you.

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.

CITLOD very small

Love in the Land of Dementia_cover

Pick the Best Care Community for Your Loved One

My hands were sweating as Mom, Dad, and I entered the memory care unit. We desperately wanted to pick the best care community for my mother. Pam, the head nurse, rushed towards us, arms outstretched. 

“So good to see you again,” she told my father and me. She turned to Mom. “And you must be Frances. Paul has told me so much about you. I hear you’re a nurse too.”

She took Mom’s arm and they walked together down the corridor, talking. We followed and Pam stopped at a small dining area, where coffee and cookies, chocolate chip, one of Mom’s favorites, awaited us. Dad and I looked at each other and smiled. Maybe, just maybe, this was going to be all right. 

We had already visited several homes and none of them seemed warm enough, caring enough, or quiet enough for Mom. What had won us over was Pam and her feeling for people who were living with memory loss, her determination to create community, her compassionate and easy way of communicating. 

#

One of the most challenging experiences caregivers can face is finding the right community when your loved one needs care. Jytte Lokvig, PhD, regularly consults with families on this issue. Her new book, Moving & More, offers families concrete guidelines for finding the facility that meets their needs.

Click here to see our interview with Jytte Lokvig

When visiting a care community, Jytte suggests that we ignore the lobby and the landscaping. A beautiful lobby soothes the family’s soul but has little to do with the quality of care and engagement offered. Spend at least a couple of hours in memory care.

“Remember,” she says, “you are asking your loved one to live here. Stay on after your tour and blend into the scenery, so you can really get a sense of how staff and residents interact.”

Here’s what you want to learn:

  • Does the facility practice “Person centered-care?
  • Do residents participate in menu and activity choices?
  • What is the staff/resident ratio?
  • What are the staff retention rates?
  • Do all staff receive mandatory first aid and dementia training?
  • Are the family, nurse, personal care and activity staff involved in creating the resident’s care plans?
  • Does the activities calendar offer a blend of entertainment and interaction? 
  • Are there both individual, small group, and large group activities?
  • Does the staff acknowledge each resident, even with a simple greeting or compliment?

After you have a sense of the community, take your loved one to visit. Have a meal with the residents. Stay for an activity program. 

“Several visits like this helps both of you feel more comfortable when the move comes,” Jytte says.

For more tips and information, visit Jytte’s site at http://www.alzheimersatoz.com and consider her book:  Moving and More.

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.

CITLOD very small

Love in the Land of Dementia_cover

An Old-Fashioned Holiday

This old-fashioned holiday story from Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey celebrates the spiritual aspects of living with dementia.

When I walk through the doors of the nursing home, I find my mother in her wheelchair, right in front of the medication cart, right behind the central nursing station, where nurses, delivery people, staff and family members congregate. Mom is bent over, her baby doll lying across her lap. When I walk up to her, I ratchet up my energy and widen my smile. I am preparing to clown her into a reaction.

Later my father will ask if I think she recognized me.

“No,” I will have to tell him. “She did not recognize me. But she did smile.”

The smile is important.

My hand waving and head bobbing does its work: Mom does smile, and I can tell she is in her own current version of a good mood.

“Music in the dining room,” the activity board reads, so I wheel her in that direction. An elderly man with a red and white trimmed Santa hat passes us in the hallway.

 

“Look Mom, there’s Santa,” I tell her.

Having been brought up Jewish, Mom never was all that enthralled with the Claus mythology and she has not changed.

A white-haired woman is in the dining room, busily setting up for the music program. Several patients are already gathered. The woman takes out a microphone, a boom box, an illuminated plastic snowman, and a small silver bell. I continue wheeling Mom down the far corridor, liking the sense of companionship I have from this movement.

As we stroll, a nurse carrying a plate of lettuce walks past us.

“She must have been a good mother,” she says, nodding at the way Mom is holding the baby. “She must still be a good mother.”

“She is,” I say.

I have never really said to my mom, “You were a good mother.”

Now I realize she was.

I can see that Mom is enjoying the ride. She loved movement when she was younger and was far more adventuresome than Dad when it came to airplanes, ski lifts, fast cars, and speedy boats. For her, biting breeze across the face was thrilling, not threatening. Until she became a mother, that is. Then she abandoned her pleasure in the heights and speed and concentrated on making sure we were slow, safe, and centered.

We roll back into the dining room just as the show is ready to start. The singer, Thelda, kicks off her shoes and presses play on the boom box. Above the cheerful sound track, she sings Jingle Bells. She dances across the room with the remnants of ballroom steps. She stops in front of Mom and sings right to her. She gets on her knees, so she can look into Mom’s eyes, and keeps singing. Mom notices her and smiles a little.

Thelda moves on, singing to each of the patients gathered around, so intent on making a connection that she often forgets the words.

“Is it all right for your Mom to come to Christmas holiday events?” the activity director had asked me, when Mom moved from the memory care into the skilled care portion of the nursing home.

“Yes, I’d like her to go to any activities. She likes the extra energy.”

I think Mom would approve of my decision, even though she has never celebrated Christmas. Growing up, her immigrant mother held on to the Jewish spirit of her home, kneading dough for Friday evening challah, observing each holiday and prayer period in her own way. Some orthodox women followed the religious law that commanded a small piece of the dough be burned as an offering to God. My grandmother was poor; she did not believe in burning good food, regardless of tradition. So she sacrificed a portion of the dough to her youngest daughter, my mother Fran. She created a “bread tail,” leftover dough that she smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar and baked. When Mom used to talk about her mother, she always mentioned this special treat.

Even when I was growing up, and we were the only Jewish family in our neighborhood, my mother still did not sing Christmas songs. She did not willingly go to Christmas parties. She let the holiday rush by her, like a large train, whooshing past, ruffling her hair and leaving her behind.

Now, I am singing Christmas carols to my Mom for the first time. She is smiling, though really not at me. But I am sitting beside her while she is smiling and that makes me happy. She has moved beyond the place where the religions are different, beyond the place where she wants to separate the dough and make a sacrifice for tradition. Her new tradition is anyone who can make her smile.

With each song, from White Christmas, to Silver Bells, to Frosty the Snowman, Thelda moves back to Mom, tapping her, nudging her, shaking a bell almost in her face, acting sillier and sillier. Each time, Mom lifts her head and widens her mouth for a second.

 

For her finale, Thelda puts on a big red nose and sings Rudolph. When she dances in front of Mom with that nose, Mom laughs. For several minutes, Mom stays fixated on the scarlet nose, her face a miracle in pure enjoyment. I laugh too, so delighted to see Mom engaged and absorbed. Then, Thelda dances away and Mom’s face glazes back over.

Two weeks from now, I will bring a menorah and candles into my mother’s room. My father and I will have a short Chanukah ceremony with Mom. She will pick at the shiny paper covering the Chanukah gelt (chocolate candy disguised as money). She will slump over in her chair. But she will come back to life when she sees me, her only daughter, wearing a big red nose as I light the menorah.

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.

CITLOD very small

Love in the Land of Dementia_cover