Tag Archives: connect

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Change happens.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, a philosopher born in 535 BC, stated: “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change –”. Heraclitus was famous for his insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe, as stated in the famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice

Over the past few years, our family has experienced a bucket-load of change; sickness, job loss, new job, death of family member, sale of home, retirement, and move across country. I’m sure we are not alone – every family, couple and individual experiences change on a constant basis.

Change can be challenging – it is not always optional – or welcome.

Butterflies know all about change.

There are a myriad of reasons why change occurs or has to take place. Even planned changes can be a bit unsettling while trying to find your way in new circumstances. If it is at all possible, it’s best to have a proactive plan in place before change occurs.

When we moved to the east coast from the west coast, we also changed three time zones. It turned out that by driving instead of flying, our internal clocks could adjust a bit more slowly. Keeping in touch with those at home was another way to keep our bearings while finding our way-we discovered Instagram and posted photos of interesting things we saw along the way.

During any season of change, it is vitality important to try to get enough sleep each night. Sleep is not only essential physically but a good night’s sleep can strengthen memories and promote creative thinking.

Change is not always bad – in fact, it seems we are designed for change – it happens whenever we break routines. Even when there isn’t a big change in our life, we can still get a benefit by doing something called ‘Neurobic exercises’. Neurobics is the science of brain exercise. They are, in a nutshell: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways—in other words—change. A few examples are using your non-dominate hand to brush your teeth, unlock a door or try to read something upside down. These activities help to increase brain connections and develop new brain pathways.

According to ‘Healthy Living Magazine‘, just as with a physical workout, you will need resistance to grow stronger, just like going to the gym to lift weights; only in this case, the weights are mental.

If the change is going to happen to a loved one who is already experiencing cognitive issues, it can be unwelcome and can trigger something called  Transfer Trauma.

Plan to have your loved one do as much as is normal for them such as making coffee, watering plants, listening to music or watching familiar movies – keep the same routines as much as possible. If old routines are not possible, try to establish new ones as soon as your situation allows. Finding any type of balance is the key to a smoother transition.

Change is going to happen. Our only option is to look for and embrace as much joy as we can in the process.

Twiddle de dee

I remember watching my grandma twiddle her thumbs back when I was a little girl. It fascinated me. She did it all the time – usually while she was sitting in her favorite chair and either visiting or watching TV. She told me it was good to have something for your hands to do while you were waiting. That made sense to me and I remember trying to copy her when she wasn’t looking. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal now, but back when I was very young, teaching my thumbs to twiddle felt like a huge accomplishment.

finishing-well-in-life-twiddle
This one is from AbuelaVicky found at Etsy.comhment.

It turns out that no matter how old you become, it is still good to have something for your hands to do. Last year I wrote a post called For that Fidgety Feeling” about something called Fidgety quilts. I loved the idea.

When my Mama lived with us while she was in the middle stages of dementia, she constantly needed something to do. Prior to the onset of dementia, she both knitted and crocheted. But as the dementia became more and more pronounced,

BizzieLizzieKnits
This one is from BizzieLizzieKnits found on Etsy.com

she found it difficult to maintain any type of ongoing focus.  She would quickly become bored and forget what she was working on.

We kept her busy with short-term activities such as folding warm towels, sorting colored beads into small bowls according to their color, and one of her favorites: picking lint off of sweaters. Before dementia struck, Mama was very detail oriented. It made sense as she was a laboratory scientist and paying attention to details was extremely important.

If I had heard about fidgety quilts back then, I believe that Mama would have loved the idea. The fact that they don’t require any special skills or knowledge to play with the various ribbons, buttons and interesting items attached to the quilts makes them perfect for every ability level.

I recently watched a short news video on BBC titled: “Lancashire knitters ‘twiddle muffs’ dementia tool plea” where there was a plea for area knitters to make and donate “twiddle muffs” to local hospitals. The muffs are a great idea – especially if you are a knitter. If you don’t knit, you can still purchase a Twiddle muff for your loved one. They seem to be a bit less expensive as well as more portable than the ‘Fidgety Quilt’ so would make a marvelous Christmas present for a loved one who tends to get fidgety.

Twiddle Kitty
Twiddle Kitty

Once you begin to look, you will discover a whole world of items designed to help give loved ones’ fingers something to do and perhaps reduce periods of agitation.

If you happen to be a knitter perhaps you might consider creating a few extra twiddle muffs to bless someone who could use a thoughtful and helpful gift this Christmas season.

The “Piano Man” keeps rolling

finishing-well-in-life-jazz2
John Gonsalves, left discusses a song with his wife Saralu and Becky Huskey.

The monthly birthday celebration at Red Bluff Health Care got jazzed up when the piano man, otherwise known as John Gonsalves rolled up to the piano to play along.

The band, “Loosely Strung” comes by every month to help celebrate birthdays, but this month John Gonsalves, who is a short-term resident while recovering from surgery delighted the residents and musicians alike by playing a few favorites on the piano.

finishing-well-in-life-jazz
Tony Mayr, left, plays the harmonica in a duet with John Gonsalves.

John was accompanied by another resident, Tony Mayr, a fabulous harmonica player, who has been hooked on the harmonica ever since he came across a toy one as a young lad. That one got destroyed and was replaced by a better instrument. Since each harmonica only has one key, Tony carries a box of harmonicas in various keys with him.

Since the age of 15, John has been playing a variety of instruments. He occasionally played piano with local bands such as Jr. Lesher and Dale  Twiggs band. He played his part in the military as a member of the US Army’s “Screamin’ Eagles Band”. The band traveled throughout the United States and Canada, performing in parades and revues.

After the Army, John attained a Master’s degree in composition and jazz arranging.  He put those skills to good use throughout his 33-year career as a music teacher in Tehama County. One of the members of “Loosely Strung”, Becky Huskey, was offered the opportunity to become Antelope School District’s full-time music instructor when John retired from his position.

He also played with a variety of well-known performing artists, such as the Smothers Brothers, Bobby Vinton, Donnie Brooks and The Drifters as well as every casino in the area. A great honor came to him by way of being chosen to serve a term as assistant grand organist for the Masons of California – a position that took him and his wife, Saralu all over the state.

John is a quiet soul, who prefers to stay in the background – usually at a piano and let his music do the talking.

Ironically, they ended the birthday party with the old Beatles song, “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Many of the residents in attendance were smiling and singing along–perhaps remembering back when they were 64.

 



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips 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 

Send in the Butterflies

Back when my Mama was in the early stages of dementia, we tried to help her be as active as possible by taking walks, eating at restaurants and walking laps at a local gym that has an indoor pfinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_1ool.

In the course of these outings, we naturally came across folks who didn’t know that she had dementia. Since Mama was very social and friendly, she would often initiate a conversation with someone. It usually didn’t take too long before the other person would begin to suspect that the nice lady they were chatting with was not functioning at 100 %. Sometimes it was a bit of a dilemma; we didn’t want to dishonor Mama by talking about her as if she wasn’t there, but at the same time, we needed to clue them into what was going on.

We would try to catch the person’s eye and mouth the word dementia’.  A puzzled expression was quickly replaced by a smile and nod as understanding dawned.

A couple of recent articles has proposed excellent solutions for those ‘awkward moments’.

The first one tells about a using a card the size of a busfinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_2iness card to relay the information: New ‘purple card’ system would help people with dementia 

Madeleine Fraley’s husband has dementia, so she created a simple card explaining the situation that she could discretely hand to someone. The purple-hued card  states, “My companion has memory problems. Please be patient. Thank you!” 

What a brilliant idea! That would have been quite useful to have on our outings.

The other clever idea is really more for a hospital or medical situation. They are using butterflies to help ifinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_3dentify patients who are suffering from dementia. The butterfly symbol is stamped on everything associated with the patient. Staff is trained  to keep an eye out for the symbol so they can support and treat the patients appropriately.

Francesca Hall, the hospital’s dementia champion states, “It’s vital that people know that a patient has dementia so they can treat and support that person appropriately to ensure the best care possible.

The important thing here is to keep your loved one as active and social as possible while continuing to treat them with dignity and honor.

The 3 R’s

Back in the old days, getting an education was often referred to as “learning the 3 R’s: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic”. In light of the significant losses connected with the progression of dementia as well as the fact that we are all steadily getting older, I would like to suggest a second set of 3R’s for this season of our lives: Remember, Record and Reconnect

finishing_well-in-life-3Rs

REMEMBER:

We all have a story. It may not begin with ‘Once upon a time’…or end with ‘Happily ever after’, but each person on the planet has a life narrative – our own ‘Who, What, When, Whys and Hows’. If you were asked where you were born and why your folks lived in that particular place, would you be able to answer? If you have children, do they know why you lived where you did when they were born? Family history is a precious thing. It’s never too early to ask some basic questions in order to fill in the blanks—but it can be too late!

In my own search to fill in some of the blanks of my life, I emailed, called and used Facebook to try to get those answers. I knew I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but had no idea why my parents lived there at the time. Since my Dad has already passed away, and my Mama is in the end stage of dementia, I can’t ask them. Thankfully, an older relative was able to fill in that particular blank for me. Though I wish my parents had written more down, or that I had asked more questions, it’s not too late for me to remember and write a basic outline of my life for those who come after me. Remembering who they are, hinge upon who I am.

RECORD:

After writing down geographic locations and interesting tidbits, the second important R would be ‘Record’. Read it into the mic—any recording device will do. Most phones have a record app that can be emailed to a computer. Don’t wait until you have your narrative perfect. The important thing here is the sound of your voice, not even the content. I wish I had a recording of my Mama’s voice from when she could talk. Even if you don’t do the ‘Remember’ part, do the ‘Record’. Our voices are the gifts that we leave for others. Even reading a favorite poem or story would be appreciated by some who come after you.

RECONNECT:

Is there someone in your life with whom you haven’t connected with in a while? Are there any family member who might like to hear from you? Who have you lost contact with? Perhaps there is someone you need to forgive.  Facebook is a wonderful way to find folks to make an initial contact, however meeting in person may be a better way to catch up with an old friend.

Take a lesson from the 3 R’s and do a bit of homework today.

Seasons

While Wayne and I were visiting with Mama today, a new resident was wheeled into the activity room and up to the table where we were sitting. I was busy chatting with Mama while spoon-feeding her some thickened water, so I didn’t pay much attention to the new lady.

At one point, she told us her name was Amy and asked us what Mama’s name was, “Muriel”, Wayne replied.”

“I was hoping to talk to her,” Amy said.

We explained that Mama doesn’t talk much these days. “She likes to listen to others talk, and likes to sing…well, she used to sing, but she still likes it when others sing.”

Amy nodded her head. Then she began singing softly.

At that moment, I was so sad that Mama wasn’t able to talk – she would have really enjoyed visiting with Amy.

I resumed giving Mama her water. We finished our visit and began our goodbyes.  I looked over at Amy, she was praying softly. What a wonderful lady, I thought to myself.finishing_well-in-life-almond

As I walked outside underneath the gloomy-gray, overcast skies of winter, I happened to notice a lovely almond tree in full bloom. How beautiful, I thought, here in the midst of winter is a spot of beauty.

I remembered that God used the almond branch to symbolize His watching over Jeremiah. I smiled as it occurred to me that God can bring a spot of beauty even in the midst of winter.

He didn’t suddenly change winter to spring, He simply made something beautiful blossom in the middle of it. He didn’t change Mama’s winter season of life, but He brought Amy to blossom in the middle of it.

We can all find a way to blossom in the midst of someone’s gloomy day.

And a little child shall lead them

I have just arrived home after attending the monthly ‘Birthday Party’ held for residents at the care home where my Mama lives.  It was wonderful! Loosely Strung, a Tehama County band faithfully visits each month to play the old songs (including “Happy Birthday”) to help the celebration.

February is Mama’s birthday month and I had been looking forward to enjoying it with her. The residents seem to really take pleasure in the music, cake and ice cream. They engage at whatever level they can by clapping and singing along with old favorites.

Wayne and I try to attend as often as we’re able. We know that Mama loves music, and even though dementia has robbed her of the ability to sing or express her emotions, her eyes are still able to speak.finishing-well-in-life-cake

About half-way through the party, a young family joins the festivity. They have a small boy and a toddler. During one of the more lively songs, the little tot with curly black hair and a big smile, wiggles out of her Mama’s arms and onto the floor. To everyone’s delight, she toddles out to the center of the room and begins dancing and clapping to the music.

Up until that point, the majority of the crowd was simply enjoying the party. Those who  were able to were singing along and munching their cake and ice cream as well as keeping an eye on the tiny dancer. But then the little girl did an amazing thing.

She toddled over to one of the residents, smiled and reached her hand out to grab her walker. It was as if she put a nickel in the older lady. She suddenly came to life with a grin and began clapping to the music. The little toddler, moved on to the next one, again producing a happy response.

Everyone was watching closely now. It was almost as if there was a collective holding of breath waiting to see where she would go next. Each time she toddled up to someone, that person became more animated.

She eventually made it over to where Mama and I were sitting. She reached her hand out and touched the soft fur on one of Mama’s slipper. No reaction. Mama just looked at her. I was a bit disappointed, as I had hoped for a smile or glimmer of joy from Mama. Oh well, I thought, at least I know she was able to hear the music.

All too soon, the musicians played their last song and it was time for us to leave. When I looked over to Mama to tell her good bye and that I loved her, I noticed something – there were tears running down her cheek. She had noticed the little girl. She had reacted. Tears are the only way Mama has now of communicating with us. What a wonderful birthday celebration.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind? 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And days o’ lang syne!

The new year often brings with it certain hopes and aspirations. This is the time for new beginnings, do-overs and fresh starts. We tell ourselves that perhaps this year we will do better, be better, live better. The ‘R’ word gets tossed around a bit, if not verbally, at least the general idea of a resolution to eat better, get more exercise, or improve in whatever area we perceive we fell short in last year.

If you do decide to make a change or two, consider becoming more social. The Alzheimer’s Society has conducted a study which shows that 42 % of family and friends mistakenly think that once a person with dementia stops recognizing loved ones, they don’t benefit that much from spending time with them. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, family visits can stimulate feelings of happiness, comfort and security.finishing_well-in-life-connect

Staying connected and taking part in activities helps a person with dementia feel less isolated.

Alzheimer’s Society is calling on people to make a positive New Year’s resolution to spend time with people with dementia and help them take part in activities they enjoy to keep connected.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “After spending time with friends and family over the festive period, New Year can be a bleak and lonely time for people with dementia and their carers. It’s so important for people with dementia to feel connected throughout the year.

“Spending time with loved ones and taking part in meaningful activities can have a powerful and positive impact, even if they don’t remember the event itself. We’re urging people to get in touch with us and find out how we can help you stay connected.”

If you have hesitated to visit someone because you are not sure what you would talk about, remember, it really doesn’t matter what you say. Simply entering the room with a smile and taking their hand can create a connection. As far as what to say, try reciting scripture, reading poetry or the newspaper. Perhaps picking up a novel you were interested in and reading a few chapters each visit.

Is someone waiting for you?

Smiling Man

Hey Smiling Man, you waved to me! Yea! I’ve been waiting for some time.

That first time I saw you in the hall, you didn’t notice me – I guess you must have had something on your mind that day. After that, I looked for you every time I came in. Sometimes I would see you, but it took a long time before I could catch your eye.

I remember that first time you glanced my way. You looked a bit unsure, but returned my smile with a quick nod. Since that day, I have been getting better at catching your eye – now you look my way almost every time.  A couple of times, you’ve even spotted me first, and I noticed that your smile was becoming more spontaneous and enthusiastic – no longer waiting for me to smile first.

Today, however, was the best. When you spotted me, your whole face lit up and then finally, finally, finally – you waved!

Most of the residents at the care home where I visit my Mama won’t look at me, but there you are – smiling and now waving. Sometimes, I get sad after a visit with Mama, but your smile helps cheer me back up.

I wonder if you ever get any visitors or have any family in the area. In fact, I don’t know anything about you, and your condition, or even your name, but to me you will always be Mr. Smiling Man – thank you.

Is someone waiting for your smile today?

 



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips 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 

What if you don’t sing?

What if neither you nor your loved one was ever really a ‘music person’? Is it still possible to activate memories hidden deep inside your loved one’s brain?  I was having this very conversation with a friend of mine whose father had dementia.

When I mentioned the benefit of singing, his face fell and he said sadly, “I don’t ever remember my father singing. Music wasn’t part of our families’ culture.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” I responded

Suddenly his face brightened, “But there is one thing –when my Dad was young, he won an ice cream eating contest. While I was growing up, our family ate a lot of ice cream. It was a bid deal for us to go to the ice cream parlor and hear my Dad tell us about the time he won that contest.”

“That’s fabulous,” I said.

“Ice cream may be his version of singing,” he continues, “The first thing he asks me when I visit him at the care home, is will I take him home. It was breaking my heart until one day I had an idea. I’d say ‘sure, let’s go get in the car.’ I drove down to the ice cream parlor and we would sit and eat ice cream and talk about the time he had won the trophy for eating ice cream. After we were finished, we would get back in the car and I would drive him back to the care home. When I pulled up into the driveway of the care home, he always smiles and says, ‘It’s good to be home.’”

So, it turns out that not only is singing a wonderful trigger for awakening memories that are hard to rouse, but other activities that hold a significance to your loved one can also awaken dormant memories.

For example, nature trips of all types can be fun. Especially places that have certain smells associated with them. If your loved one was raised on a farm, an excursion to a ranch to watch horses or cows might trigger pleasant memories. If not a farm, then perhaps a visit a petting zoo for a bit of up-close time around animals could provide stimulation of both touch and smell.  Or, venture out downtown to a park bench to feed pigeons. If there is a park that includes a duck pond, perhaps feeding ducks will invoke hidden memories.

Keep in mind, though, trips can be tiring and over-stimulation can be thwart the benefits of the outing, so keeping it short and go at times when there is less likely to be crowds.

What other ideas can you think of? What has worked for you?