All posts by seniajean

Pets provide comfort and companionship to dementia patients

My Mama didn’t own a dog. She did, however have what we called ‘her virtual pet’. It wasn’t virtual in the digital sense, more due to the fact that she didn’t actually own it.

Even though at the time, my parents lived in the country and had plenty of room for a dog. It’s just that they were at a place in life where the responsibility of everything involved with owning a dog would have been too much. They were still living on their ‘own’ at this point, although my sister, and my husband and I made several trips a day out to their place to visit, bringing them meals, giving them their meds and generally checking up on them.

Mama and Duke on one of their daily walks. Duke, a Queensland Heeler, (Australian Cattle Dog), loved to herd Mama up and down country roads.
Mama and Duke on one of their daily walks. Duke, a Queensland Heeler, (Australian Cattle Dog), loved to herd Mama up and down country roads.

At that time my Daddy had Parkinson’s disease, and Mama was in the early stages of dementia. So keeping dog food on hand, trips to the vet along with other ‘doggy’ matters would simply have been too overwhelming for them.

What they did have was a neighbor who owned a very lonely old dog – a Queensland Heeler named Duke. Duke loved two things: Mama and herding. He liked Daddy as well, but really loved Mama. I think it was because he got to herd her up and down country roads every day when she took her walk – and always brought her back home safely.

Their neighbor knew that Duke liked hanging out with Mama and Daddy, so every morning he would let Duke out.  Duke would immediately come bounding over to their little cottage. They provided something for Duke that his owner couldn’t – love and attention. My parents bonded so strongly to Duke that just two weeks after Daddy passed away, and Mama came to live with us, Duke died (probably from a broken heart).

What is my point in this (sad) story? Relationships with pets go far deeper than we understand – even if the pet doesn’t belong to the person.

Research is well established that pets contribute to a person’s quality of life. They can provide social interaction and companionship which can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.  A loved-one with dementia may have diminished ability to have conversations, but may still be able to hold and pet a dog or cat.

It is not always possible or practical to own a pet. The good news is, there are a lot of options for your loved one to experience interaction with animals.

Perhaps a family member, friend or neighbor owns a pet that would enjoy an occasional visit.  There are also several organizations that bring pets to senior care facilities for visits. You can also call your local ‘Area Agency on Aging’ or senior center to learn what is available in your area. Other options include contacting assisted living facilities or nursing homes to find what organization provides pet visits to their facility. For additional information, contact Therapy Dogs International to see if they know of resources available in your area.

Petting zoos could be an option as well if there is one within driving distance. The outing could be combined with a stop for a yummy treat such as ice cream.

Robot pets are also growing in popularity. Although still not cheap, they are becoming more affordable. I found a cute video showing a robot pet being introduced to a client of ‘Visiting Angels‘ in Knoxville, TN. A Google search for ‘Robotic pets’ will bring a wide variety of options.

The bottom line is, we live in a busy world. Giving someone with cognitive decline the chance to cuddle, pet and love a little fuzzy creature will go a long way in providing a bit of joy as well as lightening the load on those caring for their loved-one.

[VIDEO] “Joy For All” Companion Pets For Seniors‎



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

 

Nuts to dementia…

Squirrels aren’t quite as ‘squirrelly’ as you might think. In fact, research conducted at the University of Exeter has shown that their memory for the locations of hidden nuts is excellent. My granddaughter agrees. She loves squirrels. We were watching a couple of them racing, chasing and hiding nuts in our backyard one day. I remarked that it must be hard for them to remember where all they hid them. She assured me that the little grey guys actually have very good memories.  She is 11 now, but if she wishes to attend college in the UK, perhaps the University of Exeter would be a good choice.

Chuckles, one of our backyard squirrels waiting for Wayne to toss a few peanuts his way.
Chuckles, one of our backyard squirrels waiting for Wayne to toss a few peanuts his way.

The findings, according to an article published in ScienceDaily states, “Previous research at Exeter has shown that their memory for the locations of hidden nuts is excellent,” said co-author Professor Stephen Lea, of the University of Exeter.

I wonder if the secret to their good memory is found in the nuts. A study conducted by  the University of South Australia concluded that Brains are Nuts about Nuts. It goes on to state that “Long-term, high nut consumption could be the key to better cognitive health in older people.” The recommended amount is two teaspoons per day, so even though nuts are high in (good) fat, two teaspoons seem worth a modification in our diets to achieve better brain benefits. As a bonus, the article also includes a chart detailing the benefits of 10 different nuts.

One of our backyard squirrels waiting for Wayne to toss a few peanuts his way.
Mirth, another one of our backyard squirrels waiting for Wayne to toss a few peanuts his way.

That’s really good news for me, as I am a bit nuts about nuts myself. My husband and I eat a couple of brazil nuts every morning. We also eat almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds on a regular basis. It is also good news for the cute and rascally squirrels that live in our backyard. My husband tosses out a few peanuts to them every morning – and if he somehow forgets, they come up to our patio and try to look through our glass doors.

We enjoy watching them so much, that we’ve even named a few that we see on a regular basis. Their names are Mirth and Chuckles – their daily antics fit their names as they continually try different ways to get into our bird feeders. They have even taken several rides on a bird feeder my sister gave us. We call it Squirrel-a-Twirll. Since squirrels are heavier than birds, when they grab the perch trying to get to the seeds, it begins spinning around. It doesn’t hurt the squirrels and is hilarious to watch!

This is all good news, right? But wait, there’s more! An article published in VeryWell Health   includes a study suggesting it may be possible that eating nuts can help reverse cognitive loss symptoms that are already present. Even though the study was conducted using mice, it’s a start and it offers hope. Besides, unless you have a nut allergy, adding a few nuts to your daily diet can’t possibly hurt and may even help.

Laughter is good for the brain as well. Take a ‘chuckle break’ and watch “Mission Impossible Squirrel“.



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

 

 

 

 



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 Enlivant.com: 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 PhychologyToday.com, 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

EARLY STAGE

  • 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

MID STAGE

LATE STAGE

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 LiveScience.com, 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 LiveScience.com, 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.