Montessori Method for those with dementia may have merit

Two of my granddaughters attend a school that has embraced the Montessori Method of teaching. They enjoy learning in an environment that provides a variety of opportunities as well as the freedom to engage in activities that they find both rewarding and challenging.

The term, ‘Montossori’ comes from a teaching method developed early in the 20th century by Dr. Maria Montessori while she was on a quest to find a method designed for teaching students in a safe and secure setting that allowed children to thrive.

“One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.”
—Dr. Maria Montessori, MD

According to The Montessori Method places an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a person’s natural psychological, physical, and social development.

How does Montessori work for older folks

So, how does that work for older folks with dementia? Individuality is the key ingredient when it comes to implementing Montessori Method. Everyone is different. We can know we are on the right track if the activities make our loved one happy. We don’t want them to become frustrated and anxious. It’s best if they try to do what they enjoy combined with what they able to do.

Mama loved to fold towels, warm from the dryer .

My Mama enjoyed her own, unique set of activities. I shared in a previous post, “What Can She Do?” how much she enjoyed folding towels. She loved it when I gave her an armful of warm towels from the dryer. She would hug them and smile. After a while, her automatic folding response would kick in, and she would begin folding them. She found so much joy in it that I would occasionally pull three or four clean towels out of the linen closet and toss them into the dryer to warm them up for her.

We also liked playing ‘two-square’. She would sit on the couch, and I would gently bounce my exercise ball to her. She caught it and bounced it back to me. On a good day, we would play for twenty minutes or so.

Also, I discovered that sometimes Mama would spontaneously do something if given the opportunity. For example, if I told her to put her shoes and socks on, she would just give me a blank look. But, if I handed her a pair of socks without saying anything, she put them on. Once her socks were on, I would place her shoes on the floor next to her feet. I believe the big picture here is that a cookie-cutter approach to care-giving is not always the best way to care for our loved one. It seemed to trigger a memory that helped know her understand to put them on.

Mama had a very analytical brain that still functioned to some degree in spite of dementia. She loved to sort items, so I would set a small container of different colored beads along with an ice cube tray on the table in front of her. As soon as I set it down, she automatically began sorting out the beads according to color.

The following link contains ideas to help implementing Montessori Method in your own situation, “Here are seven simple ways to integrate the Montessori Method for dementia patients”. 

Abilities changed over time as dementia robbed the bits and pieces of Mama’s brain. We had to be strategic, patient and choose our battles. If she didn’t feel like singing, that was okay, but wearing shoes was a requirement. We continued to move forward on a daily basis with a goal to help her experience as much joy as possible in the process.

Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “FinishingWell: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama.  May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy on your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Paperback or Kindle edition
Paperback or Kindle edition





Backing up is good for your memory

In this modern, computerized society of ours, warnings and advice about backing up computers and tablets have become fairly common. I had to learn the value of backing up my photos and documents the hard way. It happened back in the 90s when personal computers were becoming more and more popular. I can still remember embracing the joy of writing articles, stories and photos on my desktop.

Oh, I had heard plenty of advice for users to be sure to back up everything. I also thought that was a good idea – unfortunately, I didn’t actually do it. Then one day, poof! my computer crashed and everything disappeared. Since I didn’t have bucket loads of money to spend on recovery, the result was, once my data was gone it was gone, and so were the memories I had stored.

Another reason to back up

Senia and Wayne backing up for better memories
Senia and Wayne backing up for better memories

It turns out that backing up is not only good for digital memories, but also for the ones we store in our brains. According to a recent study done at the University of Roehampton, walking backwards can enhance your memory when compared to standing still or walking forward.  

Backing up safely

One reason walking backwards is helpful is that it falls into the category of neurobic activities or exercises. They are, in a nutshell: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways. Break routines. For example, turn your calendar upside down, or, find a safe place to walk backward.

Speaking of safe places, my husband and I recently joined a YMCA which has a lovely, indoor pool. I love that I can do some backward walking without having to worry about falling over. I still have to always be aware of who is behind me though.

My Mama, who has since passed, was raised in the Great Lakes area and loved the water. Even well into mid-stage dementia, she enjoyed going to our local wellness center to ‘swim’. Though she was comfortable in the water, I always made her wear floating bands – just in case. I would hold her hands and walk backward while she walked forward. It turned out that I was doing both physical and neurobic excrcise at the same time.

Adding backwards walking to your routine is an idea worth considering. Besides giving your memory a boost, walking backwards can also help your knees, heart and provide a whole host of other benefits.

If you do decide that walking backwards is for you, always think about safety. Walk with a partner, who is facing forwards, set your treadmill on the reverse (and slowest) setting, or try walking backward in a pool, beach, or a hallway – whatever you do try to continuously be aware of what is behind you.

By the way, it’s still a good idea to back up those digital files.

Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “FinishingWell: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama.  May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy on your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Paperback or Kindle edition
Paperback or Kindle edition



Smiles for the new year

A new year offers new beginnings. Time to set goals, reflect, resolve. Does the thought of making/keeping new year’s resolutions make you grimace?  If so, it’s time to turn that frown upside down and create a resolution you can easily keep this year. Resolve to Smile more! Why? Smiles are amazing.

Senia & Wayne's – ‘smile-selfies’
Senia & Wayne’s – ‘smile-selfies’

It turns out that there are a whole host of health benefits associated with smiling. In an article titled, “15 of the best and free health benefits of smiling” includes heart health, pain and stress reduction as well as an increase in productivity and longevity.

Smiles are also contagious.

According to Scientific American,  if you smile at someone, they smile, and then you both get a little happier. It has to do with something called ‘mirror neurons’ in our brains. The way this works is, if you see someone smiling, your mirror neurons for smiling fire up as well, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile.

If you are a caregiver, this can be especially good news. Try smiling at your loved one several times throughout your day and watch how they respond.

Another fun ‘smile-adventure’ can happen while getting a bit of exercise as well. For instance, take a smile walk. It can be in your neighborhood, or where ever your favorite place to stroll might be.  On your walk, be determined to make a point of smiling at a half dozen folks. Watch their reactions. As a result, most people will smile back. You may also be pleased by how happy you feel by the end of your walk.

What if you don’t feel like smiling?

Don’t despair! According to, smiles – even fake smiles do a lot more than simply let the world know you’re happy. Each time you smile, you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. As a result, the act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.

Smile Studies

An article titled, Smile: A Powerful Tool by Alex Korb Ph.D.,  reveals the power of a smile:

“One of the best experiments to demonstrate the power of a smile came from the late ’80s. The researchers devised an ingenious way to get the subjects to flex certain muscles of their face without knowing why. They had subjects hold a pencil in one of three ways. The first group held the pencil widthwise between their teeth, forcing a smile. The second group held the pencil in their lips lengthwise, which means they couldn’t smile,and were actually making kind of a frown. The control group held the pencil in their hand. Then the subjects looked at some cartoons, and rated how funny they were. The “smile” group gave the cartoons much higher “funny” ratings than the “frown” group, while the control group was somewhere in the middle.”

Other studies found similar results.  They had subjects mimic some of the characteristics of a smile, by making the long “e” sound, which stretches the corners of the mouth outward. Other vowel sounds were also tested, including the long “u,” which forces the mouth into a pouty expression. 

As it happens, happiness is that easy. The takeaway here is that smiles might just be the best resolution you can make and keep all year long…and best of all, they’re free!

Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “FinishingWell: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama.  May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy on your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Paperback or Kindle edition
Paperback or Kindle edition



Christmas gift ideas for loved-ones with dementia

Wayne is trying out some of the Twistables by Crayola.
Wayne is trying out some of the Twistables by Crayola.

Once friends or loved-ones begin their journey down the path of dementia, gift giving becomes much more difficult. Previous interests change or fall away. Abilities diminish, concentration and focus shorten as senses dull. Warm socks, stretchy pants and button-up tops may make dressing easier, but finding something your loved one would enjoy can also make a nice gift.

Gifts for the three stages of dementia


  • Goldfish- easy to maintain, inexpensive to replace
  •  Jigsaw Puzzles-specifically tailored to age and level of loved-one’s ability. Number of pieces should match their ability and interests
  • Adult Coloring books – especially the books themed from the1950s. Pictures and information from that era may also trigger memories from youth.  Crayola Twistables  are nice and sturdy to fit in an older hand.
  • Favorite movies such as “Sound of Music”, “Miracle on 34th Street” along with any Bob Hope, John Wayne or Gary Cooper movies
  • CDs, an ipad or radio. Any type of music your loved one might enjoy. If you are not sure, go to BBC Music Memories and play snippets of songs from a variety of eras and types until you  learn what songs provide enjoyment.
  • Card games such as ImageSnap card game



Since one of the companion maladies that often accompanies dementia is loss of the ability to smell, perfume or scented soaps are not items that would bring the joy to your loved-one they hadin the past. Many folks with declining ability also have food limitations dueto diabetes and other medical issues. Because of that, gifts of candy or otherfoods may not be appropriate.

One lesson that I learned about candy was that at some point, my Mama lost the ability to distinguish between the candy and the paper wrapper. She would often try to put the whole thing in her mouth – wrapper and all. Things that require batteries can also be a problem along with any article of clothing that has intricate snaps, buttons or closures.

A Word of advice on gift giving

Giving your loved-one a present is wonderful, but to really brighten up their day try to arrange it so that you can participate in the activity. For example, don’t simply give a movie – watch it with them. Bring a color book for yourself and plan to spend a bit of time coloring together. Best of all, instead of handing your loved-one a CD of old songs, attempt to discover music they loved as a youth, learn the lyrics and have a sing-along. The time spent together is the best gift of all.

Gifts for Caregivers

Cover of New Every Day
Paperback or Kindle edition

A friend of mine, Dave Meurer has just published a book titled, New Every Day – Navigating Alzheimer’s with Grace and compassion. He is an award-winning author and writer of a multitude of books dealing with family life.  I have loved every book Dave has written – they are always filled with humor, love, and insight. You will not be disappointed.

From the Back of the Book: A friend on the journey of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s. It breaks your heart, disrupts your plans, and consumes enormous amounts of time and energy. When someone you love has Alzheimer’s, you need more than just information on the disease–you need a break. You need a laugh. You need a friend by your side who knows exactly what you’re facing.
Award-winning humorist Dave Meurer is that friend. New Every Day is packed with practical information–like where to look for financial help and how to get the DMV to take away the car keys so you don’t take the heat for it–along with plenty of true stories from Meurer’s own experiences navigating life with a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Here you will find both hard-earned wisdom and badly needed comic relief for your journey down this difficult road. With compassion born of experience, Meurer helps caregivers develop the ability to relax, adapt, and even laugh again.

Paperback or Kindle edition
Paperback or Kindle edition

Caring for a loved one with dementia 
My book, “FinishingWell: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama, who fought the good fightwith dementia for over a decade.The journey down the pathwayof dementia is seldom static. Change is the norm. Like lost pieces in a puzzle,the picture never quite comes together—something is always missing.

Dementia is a tough disease. It wreaks havoc on the emotions of both loved ones and caregivers. It can often be a long trek – taking you up the hills of lost-ness and confusion, as well as down through the valley of the shadow of death. We don’t know how to fix it nor do we have all the answers, but we have walked this road. It is our prayer that the anecdotes in this book will be both a help and an encouragement for your own unique journey.

Caring for my Mama through her decline felt like an uncharted wilderness. Resources were few and far between. There wasn’t a lot available in the way of guidance or help, but we were determined to bring as much joy as possible along the way in spite of the challenges. 
This is our story – actually, it’s Mama’s – who loved to say, that despite every difficulty, she was still in good shape for the shape she is was in. 

Resources, Applause, and Help for Caregivers

Coretta Scott King stated, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

Ms. King’s statement certainly describes most family Caregivers I know. They unquestionably contribute to the greatness of their community by their compassionate actions.

Caregivers make a difference. Friends make a difference for caregivers.
Caregivers make a difference. Friends make a difference for caregivers.

As we move closer to the end of the year, take a moment to consider and celebrate the contribution of friends and family members who care for loved-ones. Don’t just give a pat on the back. Offer help in concrete ways. Family Caregivers are certainly heroes, but not ‘Superhero’s (they can’t go on endlessly and never tire).

Usually, Caregivers are not complainers and are often reluctant to ask for help. Because of that, I thought I would offer a few suggestions that will provide concrete suggestions for those who are either a Caregiver or a Friend of one.  

  • Friend: provide a meal for someone who is caregiving.
    •  Caregiver: Accept/request a specific meal.
  • Friend: Offer to sit with a loved one.
    • Caregiver: Accept the offer for someone else to sit with or visit your loved one.
  • Friend: Offer to run errands.
    • Caregiver: Accept the offer and make a list.
  • Friend: Clean/do laundry (even taking larger bedding to a laundromat).
    • Caregiver: Accept the offer – you can’t do it all.
  • Friend: Ask your friend specifically what you can do to help.
    • Caregiver: Accept the help, answer honestly.

Some caregivers don’t ask for help because they don’t recognize when they need it. I came across a helpful article that may shed some light on the ‘asking for help’ issue. Caregivers asking for help – recognizing when you need it.

Caregivers Resources:

The following is a list of websites that can be helpful for both caregivers and seniors alike. Please let me know if there is any resource that I should consider adding to this list.

Remember, you can’t do it all whether you are the caregiver or friend. Sometimes the best help may be a welcome visit that provides a temporary distraction.

Paperback or Kindle edition
Paperback or Kindle edition

Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “FinishingWell: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy on your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Keep in mind that links can change. If you discover a broken link,please make me aware of if so I can fix it. Thank you.
Disclaimer: ThoughI check all links for reliability, I cannot personally vouch for each company listed. Please use wisdom as well as your own discretion when engaging with any of the resources listed above.

Autumn sights, sounds and smells help trigger memories

I love this time of the year. Autumn, Fall, Holiday season – whatever you call it. Cooling trends begin as days get shorter. Trees begin dressing in their fall finery before decorating the ground with their orange, red and yellow jewels.

Beautiful autumn colors along Hwy 9 in Maine
Beautiful autumn colors along Hwy 9 in Maine

We recently enjoyed a road trip that took us through several New England states in order to spend time with family in New Brunswick, Canada. The trees were stunning, the air was crisp (as were the apples). The timing of our trip was perfect as we were also treated to the delightful show of fallen leaves dancing on the road in front of us caused by the wind whipping them up and around as we drove through Maine. 

Sensory stimulation is vital for everyone

Our senses help us comprehend the world around us. Studies show that senses are also powerful memory triggers. Why? According to, the same part of the brain that’s in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories. Our brains receive information through our senses; primarily sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. The Autumn season, it turns out holds a bushel full of sensory delights to help trigger a trip down memory lane.

Autumn memory triggers

Sensory stimulation may be helpful if you have a loved one who is becoming forgetful, or showing any symptoms of dementia.  Walking through familiar fall activities may help ‘prime the pump‘ so to speak and possibly activate some of the memories hidden inside their brain.  Ponder the possibilities by taking lovely drive through the countryside to view trees dressed in their fall finery and breath in the crisp, cool air.

A tractor and crates of pumpkins harvested for pies and carvings for autumn traditions
Harvesting pumpkins for pies and carvings for autumn traditions

The Thanksgiving Holiday plays a large part in packing the emotional memory box for Autumn. This season is resplendent with the sights, sounds and smells that can trigger old memories. Smell of pumpkin pies, wafting smoke from burning leaves, and cool morning mist. Beautiful changing leaves, blooming mums, as well as the taste of candy corn. Songs such as “Over the River and Through the Woods”, “Count Your Blessings”, and “My Favorite Things” are also powerful memory triggers.

The sing-song voices of children calling ‘Trick or Treat’ may trigger fun memories. Pay close attention to be sure they don’t become confused by all the costumes. Keeping activities short or limited is a good idea, as overstimulation can result in negative emotions.

Meaningful and familiar

Yummy pumpkin pie part of the Autumn tradition
Yummy pumpkin pie part of the Autumn tradition CC0 Creative Commons

The important thing with any activity is that it is meaningful and familiar to your loved one. If you are aware of traditions done in the past, then begin with those things. Don’t give up if you have to try a few things before something clicks. This is going to be a season of changes. When the smell of the old family recipe of pumpkin spice cake baking seems to perk your loved one up one day, but not the next, then perhaps vanilla will work. Smells, it turns out are the most powerful memory triggers of all the senses. The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.

As we turn the corner from the hot summer and temperatures begin to cool down, be sure to time for your own enjoyment of autumn. Wonderful recollections are good for everyone – not just those with memory issues.

Finish well!

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group
 on Facebook 

The Magic of Music in Memories

Music is an amazing elixir. We discovered that truth when our world began to change as we embarked on our journey of dementia with Mama. Her forgetfulness of ‘people, places and things’ grew to encompass all but the most familiar at an alarming rate. Personal routines broke down. Meals were forgotten, and longtime friends became strangers. I remember when I also became a stranger to her.

Sheet music and roses CC0 Public Domain
Sheet music and roses CC0 Public Domain

As memories fell away, we tried to focus on what remained.  Music endured. Wonderfully, music was the one constant. Mama had songs from a lifetime of singing. It was always a big part of our lives; in fact, I cannot remember any time growing up when Mama didn’t sing. It seemed she was always singing, especially in the car. We did a lot of summer road trips as a child, primarily from California to Michigan where my grandparents lived. On those long drives, we would sing, sing, sing. My parents had a wide musical interest which ran from popular songs of the day to Broadway musi­cals, and old southern songs such as “O Susanna,” and “On Top of Old Smokey”. We also had patriotic, silly and church songs, of which included, “God Bless America,” “Mairzy Doats,” “Playmate, Come out and Play With Me,” “Amazing Grace,” and the “Doxology.”

Music immersion

As time went on, we pursued as many opportunities for Mama to be immersed in music as possible. We played CDs of her favorite hymns, we watched musicals on TV, and even attended concerts held at a local theatre. One evening we enjoyed a fun ‘Banjo and Piano‘ band that played songs from the 1930s-40s. About halfway through, they played “You are my Sunshine” – she surprised us by singing along with the band!

While time moved forward, Mama continued to decline. Her ability to carry on conversations faltered, stuttered, and finally stopped, but to our delight, her singing ability remained. We learned that songs are an integral part of human experience. No matter how much of the thought process a loved one loses, music resides in the soul. As the disease progressed, it began to take more effort – more ‘priming the pump’ to get Mama to sing with me – I would sing the first verse of a song over and over to her. If I was persistent, she would eventually join me. One of her favorites of all time was, “My Wild Irish Rose”.

Helpful notes

The power of music to trigger memories is well documented in studies and by organizations such as Music and Memory . Singing with a loved one is a won­derful way to stay connected. Most folks have a song or two tucked away in their memory. A song some­one learned when they were eight will still re­main with them when they are 80.

If you are not sure what music your loved one would connect with, there is a website, Music Memories that has snippets of songs from several decades beginning with the 1920s. Choose a decade and play through the snippets until you develop a playlist that your loved one seems to connect with. Then you can go to YouTube, iTunes, or some other music source for the entire song. Unless I knew the song and could sing it with Mama, she used headphones to help her to enjoy the music. It is an amazing thing to watch the light of memories flash and sparkle in someone’s eyes – almost like magic.

Brush your teeth to stay healthy

I remember a time when I was in elementary school that a dentist came to visit our classroom. He brought everyone in the class a new toothbrush. He demonstrated with a model of teeth the correct way to brush.

First, we all brushed our teeth. Next, we were then given a little pinkish-red pill to swish around in our mouths.  Any plaque

Toothbrushes at the ready with my favorite toothpaste.
Toothbrushes at the ready with my favorite toothpaste.

remaining on our teeth would turn red. The teacher came around the room with a hand-held mirror so we could see how red our teeth were. This visit was based on one of the special projects aimed at the oral health of children implemented in the 1960s.

Most adults generally know that brushing and flossing our teeth is a good idea. Options for toothpaste, brushes and floss types abound along with numerous commercials and ads each touting the benefits of their products. Meeting regularly with your dentist for cleanings and checkups are also ways to prevent or fix any issues regarding your teeth.

According to the Mayo Clinic, we should brush our teeth twice a day. They have a saying, “When you brush, don’t rush. Take time to do a thorough job”. My husband and I have a saying as well, “You only have to brush the teeth you want to keep”.

Brush your teeth for bonus benefits

Besides the obvious reasons for practicing good oral hygiene such as keeping your mouth clean, preventing bad breath as well as tooth decay and gum disease, there are a few unexpected benefits for regular brushing (which is described as brushing twice in a 24-hour period).

An article titled “Surprising Connection between Gum Disease and Bad Knees“. According to the article in, scientists have found traces of gum bacteria in the knees of people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, adds more evidence of the link between poor oral health and poor health in general.

I discovered another unexpected benefit while visiting a VA Hospital. A poster on the wall had a headline that caught my attention. It said, “Brush your Teeth to Prevent Pneumonia”. How interesting. It turns out that Shannon Munro, Ph.D., a nurse researcher had investigated the benefits of tooth brushing among hospitalized veterans.

The research demonstrated that if the biofilm that forms on teeth is removed twice a day, harmful bacteria will not migrate into patients’ lungs and cause pneumonia. Since the practice began an amazing drop in the pneumonia rates have dropped by nearly two thirds. It makes sense if it helps folks in the hospital, we all might benefit from such a practice.

On an interesting note: of the two brushing times, bedtime seems to be the most important. One reason is that saliva levels drop while you sleep,  which leaves bacteria and plaque to cause destruction to your teeth during the night.

So, at the end of the day (so to speak), you can give yourself the best smile possible when you take care of your teeth to the best of your ability.

Quality of life for loved one benefits everyone

Quality of life rises to a higher priority as options become more and more limited. When we first realized that Mama was beginning to display signs of dementia, our family made the unconscious decision to try to fill her life with as much joy as possible. I say ‘unconscious decision’ because, at that point, we didn’t know much about dementia. All we knew was that our smart and witty Mama, who enjoyed eating out, swimming and attending concerts would experience more joy if we tucked as many of these events as possible into her daily life.

Wayne pauses to smile as he checks one of our bird feeders. Bird watching has become an important part of our quality of life.
Wayne pauses to smile as he checks one of our bird feeders. Bird watching has become an important part of our quality of life.

These activities must be done on purpose. A default response can easily be to find the proverbial ‘rocking chair’, sit down and rock into oblivion. There may be some prodding and pestering involved in keeping your loved one active and as social as possible.

Bringing joy into Mama’s world didn’t always involve leaving the house. She enjoyed watching her goldfish swim about as well as a wide variety of old movies such as “The Sound of Music” and the ‘Three Stooges”. We also hung a finch sock filled with thistle outside the living room window, so she could watch all the beautiful, yellow finches flit and fly as they came and went from the bag throughout the day.

We went to as many places as possible as well. Leaving the house has its own set of challenges. Since Mama also suffered from diabetes, her ‘go bag’ needed to include a glucose monitor and a small packet of honey (found at coffee shops) in case her blood sugar dropped. Other things became necessary over time such as Depends and a change of clothes in order for Mama to stay active.

Change continues to happen. For example, before Mama broke her hip, she enjoyed taking a walk as often as possible. She was also quite social and loved to visit, even though she didn’t always make sense.

Once she couldn’t walk anymore, we put more emphasis on chatting, singing and praying. She also enjoyed looking out the window watching people and cars go by. As time went on the visiting became more and more one-sided and I would sing songs to her, read out loud and pray for her.

The search for joy and contentment is not limited to those with dementia. For every person, the pursuit will of necessity, require flexibility as needs and abilities change.

Quality of life important for everyone

Quality of life became a focus when my husband and I retired and moved across the country, we had to discover what activities would be included in our new lifestyle. We do keep busy. We have become beekeepers. Our backyard is small, but on a creek, so we have a good place for the bees to buzz around and (hopefully) make us lots of honey.

Our 'Bee Crossing' Sign that alerts the bees where to cross.
Our ‘Bee Crossing’ Sign that alerts the bees where to cross.

We also have hung several bird feeders that have attracted a lovely community of songbirds that we can watch from our dining room table. Quite a few of the birds are new to us here like cardinals, wrens, finches, sparrows and woodpeckers along with doves, titmice, nuthatches, threshers, and jays. We also have a couple of hummingbird feeders and enjoy watching the tiny little beauties visit the feeder throughout the day. For comic relief, we have several squirrels that chase and play all day long. Their main goal in life seems to be to get into the bird feeders (even though Wayne feeds them peanuts every morning).  When my sister Peggy and her husband came out to visit they bought us a special bird feeder that has a sensor on it. If a squirrel jumps on the perch, they end up spinning off. We call it ‘Twirl a Squirrel’ or ‘Squirrel-Go-Round’. They are quite persistent (and apparently thick-headed) as they try over and over.

Every stage and season of life will develop its own version of what expresses a good ‘quality of life’. Interests and abilities further define it for each person. If you’re not sure where to begin, here is a site that contains 25 Habits for Improving the Quality of your Life

Find your joy, finish well.

Finish well! Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook 

Get a grip to prevent ‘digital dementia’

Have you ever shaken someone’s hand and it felt like a limp noodle? You know the feeling. We’ve all experienced that from time to time. Have you ever wondered what it means?

Wayne and our son Adam shake hands
Wayne and our son Adam shake hands

A weak grip in a handshake may not mean anything except that someone is shy or lacks confidence in social settings.

On the other hand, a strong handshake may mean that someone is strong, confident, and trustworthy.

Could there be more to the story? Yes, as it turns out. Grip strength may actually indicate more than a personality indicator. Several recent studies suggest a correlation between grip strength and longevity.

One study carried out by researchers from University College London found evidence on the association between measures of physical capability, grip strength and balance, and the risk of an earlier death.

Another study by The Lancet concluded that grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure.

PLOS Medicine did a nationwide population-based study in Taiwan among middle-aged and older people. It found that weak handgrip strength showed a significant association between cardiometabolic risk, and the danger of coronary artery disease.

My daughter, a Bodywork Therapist, is continually teaching her clients about the importance of doing muscle strengthening exercises. Since she is an expert on muscles (like a muscle doctor), my husband and I have found that it always benefits us to listen to her teaching and follow her advice.

I asked her what she thought about the importance of a strong grip. Very important, she replied, She explained that the strength of hand grips are a product of something called ‘recruiting’. Recruiting happens when our hand muscles call on muscles from other parts of our body – such as arms, neck, shoulders and even our torso. If those other muscles do not have the strength to respond, than it could be an indicator of muscle weakness. I believe that she hit the mark. A strong core can provide strength to our entire body.

Focusing on our grip strength and ways to improve it can mean more than simply a longer life – it can mean a better quality of life as well. Other reasons why a weak grip can impact our lives: The ability to stay active and independent frequently begins with our hands. Weak hand strength can impair a person’s ability to open a jar, grip a steering wheel, brush your teeth, or hold a grandchild. If you can’t open your medicine bottle, then taking medications becomes difficult.

Time to ‘get a grip’

To get a stronger grip on life, here are some exercises to help you work on your hand strength.

Here are some handgrip exercises, but keep in mind that the overall goal is to strengthen the entire body.

Web MD Slideshow: 10 Ways to Exercise Hands and Fingers

Range-of-motion hand mobility exercises you can do at home

Your muscles and tendons move the joints through arcs of motion, such as when you bend and straighten your fingers. If your normal range of motion is impaired — if you can’t bend your thumb without pain, for example — you may have trouble doing ordinary things like opening a jar.

These exercises move your wrist and fingers through their normal ranges of motion and require all the hand’s tendons to perform their specific functions. They should be done slowly and deliberately, to avoid injury. If you feel numbness or pain during or after exercising, stop and contact your doctor.

Harvard Health Publishing offers exercises to improve hand mobility  Below are five easy-to-do range-of-motion hand mobility exercises. Hold each position for 5–10 seconds. Do 10 repetitions of each exercise at a time. Repeat three times a day.

  1. Wrist extension and flexion
  • Place your forearm on a table on a rolled-up towel for padding with your hand hanging off the edge of the table, palm down.
  • Move the hand upward until you feel a gentle stretch
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat the same motions with the elbow bent at your side, palm facing up.
  1. Wrist supination/pronation
  • Stand or sit with your arm at your side with the elbow bent to 90 degrees, palm facing down.
  • Rotate your forearm, so that your palm faces up and then down.
  1. Wrist ulnar/radial deviation
  • Support your forearm on a table on a rolled-up towel for padding or on your knee, thumb upward.
  • Move the wrist up and down through its full range of motion.
  1. Thumb flexion/extension
  • Begin with your thumb positioned outward.
  • Move the thumb across the palm and back to the starting position.
  1. Hand/finger tendon glide
  • Start with the fingers extended straight out.
  • Make a hook fist; return to a straight hand.
  • Make a full fist; return to a straight hand.
  • Make a straight fist; return to a straight hand.

For more information on the causes and treatment of hand pain, and strengthening strategies for hands, buy Healthy Hands, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.


A Digi-Flex helps users develop strength and dexterity in their fingers and hands. Trumpet players and softball players both use them to improve their manual agility, Evers said, so these devices are found in both music and sporting-goods stores.

Theraputty, which is like a more substantial Play-Doh and available in varying degrees of pliability, also is used in strength-building regimens.

“This is something we give out to patients. They take it home for home therapies and get different colors as they progress,” McKerrow said.

Although the putty can be satisfying to move around as a stress buster, McKerrow said there are specific exercises to go along with it, such as squeezing it between the thumb and forefinger to improve pincer hold strength.

In addition to working on the fingers and hands, McKerrow said the wrist and forearm are important aspects of total hand function.

“You need to have good wrist extension when you hold that coffee cup,” she said.

Want to get to work on your own hand strength? Evers and McKerrow shared the following exercises:

Rubber-ball squeeze: Grasp a ball in the palm of your hand and squeeze it as firmly as you can. Hold this squeeze for 8 to 10 seconds.

Theraputty pinches: Hold a small ball of putty between your thumb and finger. Squeeze it flat or roll it into a tube shape.

Rubberband stretch: Hold your hand with your fingers together and flat and your thumb directly underneath them. Place a rubber band over your thumb and fingers, then slowly move your fingers away from your thumb. Hold this position for a few seconds, then repeat.

Forward wrist extension: Sit near the edge of a table with your forearm supported from wrist to elbow. Your hand should be off the table and your palm should be facing the ceiling. Holding a light weight, slowly curl your wrist upward. Hold for a few seconds, then lower.

Backward wrist extension: Stand holding a light weight with your arm straight by your side. Your thumb should be pointed forward. Slowly flex your wrist to point the weight upward behind you. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower it.

Oh, one more thing. Don’t be too quick to judge someone’s health by their handshake – remember, some folks are left-handed and will naturally have a lighter grip with their non-dominate hand.

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