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.
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.
Just blocks from the bustling tourist shops in the port area of Falmouth Jamaica, stands a white stucco Salvation Army Church. Inside this building, we met with local community leaders. We shared stories and information, offering ways to stay connected throughout the dementia journey. We hoped to build community through sharing stories.
Even before we spoke, Shirley Duncan, a volunteer with Alzheimer’s Jamaica, and one of the event organizers, said, “I have a surprise for you.” She spoke eloquently of the need to talk about dementia, to share experiences, and to be there for the caregivers and people living with dementia. Then she told us that today’s participants were making a commitment to form an on-going group that would educate, advocate, and care for those affected by dementia in their community. “We are calling our group Debron, in honor of you two, because you are the catalysts,” she told us.
Ron had been working with Shirley and Dundeen Ferguson of Alzheimer’s Jamaica for several weeks, setting up the presentation. Shirley and Dahlia Klein orchestrated the details, spreading the word among the community leaders, garnering the venue, and making sure all went smoothly. We were thrilled to be catalysts and delighted to be discussing ideas with such a dedicated group of women, many of whom were former teachers.
We shared ideas from Dr. Madan Kataria in Mumbai about the power of laughter yoga, and we told a story about creating an inland beach from, Dr. Claire Craig in Sheffield, England. We talked about the power of Dan Cohen’s Music & Memory program and discussed ways to connect through art, citing a story from Teri Miller in Houston, Texas. And we chatted about ways to stay connected through cooking together, sharing our own favorite childhood dishes, which included spiced shrimp, banana porridge, dumplings, roasted corn with shredded coconut, and so much more.
“We will spread these ideas throughout our community,” one of the women told us. “That is what teachers do, we share information.”
We left feeling so inspired and so connected. This is what we all need, caring people, compassionate and eager to learn, ready to offer help and hope.
During our presentation, we talked about Dr. Madan Kataria’s Ha Ha chorus. At the end, the women said, “We want to sing you a song.” They serenaded us with the Ha Ha chorus. Watch this video and please, sing along.
For more about Laughter Yoga, visit Madan Kataria’s website, http://laughteryoga.org