Tag Archives: memory

Finally finished

Have you ever noticed that the longer something takes to complete, the less likely it gets accomplished? I am a project person. Perhaps I get bored easily, but it seems to me that I always have something I’m working on. I can usually finish my short-term projects before I run out of steam or interest, but those that take longer….well, all kinds of things can crop up to interfere with my best intentions.

There are a host of reasons for not completing a task. Plans get canceled, seasons change and people pass away. I’ve begun some things (usually a craft project) only to  discover that I don’t have quite enough talent or ability.

So it came as a nice surprise, that I happen to come across a notebook– my ‘Grateful Journal’ that I had begun keeping back in 2012. It was in response to a book I had just finished reading titled: “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” By Ann Voskampfinishing_well-in-life-1000

According to her website, Ann Voskamp’s story is not happily ever after. As a child, her sister was crushed under a truck in front of her and her mother. Consequently, her mother checked herself into a psychiatric hospital and her father couldn’t find God. As an adult, she stood beside her brother-in-law as he buried his first two sons. Voskamp is a wife and mother who does not grin through the pain but battles to believe that in God is joy, and that there are as many gifts amid the grittiness of life as in the moments of celebration.

It’s a compelling narrative that challenged me to develop a more grateful heart in my everyday life. I began keeping a journal to create a list of 1000 things on my own journey towards a more grateful heart. Somewhere along the way life got busy, the journal got misplaced, and I didn’t even notice.

So as mentioned, I came across my journal. I sat down and began a trip back through time by way of short numbered entries:

  1. A warm shower
  2. Putting Aria’s letter in the mailbox
  3. Playing chess with Bambi

….there were also entries that had a star scribbled on the line, those were the ones where I chose to be grateful:

  1. Brian’s funeral *
  2. Didn’t get to Skype with Lillie & Zuri*
  3. Found lots of tomato worms*

As I read through the entries and scribbles, my heart began to melt. I remembered the various moments of joy, gratefulness and sorrow. Reading on, I realized that through it all, a picture was emerging from these pages – a picture of God’s faithfulness. It struck me that I needed to pick it back up and finish – all the way to 1000 entries.

Many, many months later, I’m happy to report that I have finally arrived at number 1000! Interesting thing though – now that I’m there, I can’t stop. I have discovered that life will move on with or without our noting, but the simple act of recording moments of gratefulness does something to our hearts as we move on with life.

Give it a try. Either read the book first to get a better idea, or grab a notebook and begin your own journey of gratefulness.

How Grace remembers

While visiting with a friend the other day, she shared with me about how hard it was taking care of her Mother because she had so little grace for her. It seems that she and her Mom were never close, but due to circumstances of life, it fell to her to be the caregiver as her Mother developed dementia and grew increasingly less able to care for herself.  At first, she kept contact by phone, and then one day when there was no answer, she frantically raced over to her house to discover that her Mother had fallen and hurt herself.

Memories can be filtered by grace
Memories can be filtered by grace

After a knee-replacement surgery, my friend brought her Mom home to live with her. My friend confided in me how distressing it was for her to see her Mother in such a helpless state. She said that looking back, she realized there was more she could have done to ensure her mother’s well-being – but she didn’t realize the severity of her condition. Her Mother passed away not too long afterward.  She carried a quite a few regrets and was consumed with guilt. My heart broke for my friend as I assured her that I too am no stranger to guilt and regrets.

A picture of grace

The next day, as I was spending some quiet time with the Lord and reading the bible, I came across a passage in Psalm 105 where God seems to be reminiscing a bit about Israel. There is one particular part describing how He delivered them from Egypt and cared for them in the desert. Verse 40 tells us, “They asked and He brought quail, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven.” As I was reading I thought, wow, what a picture of grace! See, the account back in Exodus 16 shows us a fuller picture of what a bunch of whiny grumblers they were. It is interesting that Psalm 105 doesn’t mention anything about their grumbling, just that He provided quail and bread. It’s clear that God remembered their actions, but He chose to focus on the good.

Thinking about His grace, I realized that perhaps this could be a key for my friend to heal from some of her guilt and regrets. Since her Mother has already passed away, she won’t be able to ask her for forgiveness, but she could begin by confessing her regrets to the Lord and asking Him to forgive her and help her find peace. Moving forward, she could do as the Lord did in Psalm 105, and focus on the good. Let the sad, bad and ugly memories be replaced by the better ones.

A second witness is found in Hebrews 6:10 where the Lord assures us that He is still looking back over our past and remembering the love and kindness we have shown to others.

We can follow His example by doing the very same thing for ourselves. It’s never too late to change our focus.

 

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.

Who are you?

I’m not saying I’m predictable, but on the rare occasion, if I happen to act uncharacteristically, such as ordering something different off a menu, or suggest we see a Sci-Fi movie rather than a Chick flick with a good ending, my husband will say, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?

I believe we are all a bit predictable to some degree. After folks have known us a while, they might be able to anticipate some of our reactions to certain questions or events. The way in which others see us respond to various occurrences might actually be the result of our ‘social filter’. Something might annoy us, but since it would be impolite to show the annoyance, we smile and let it go.

Now, I’m not saying that it isn’t a good idea to be polite, show finishing-well-in-life-questionconsideration and act kindly to others, but some recent observations have convinced me that we might want to do a bit more than ‘act’.

I was attending a class recently that my sister teaches. She was recounting a recent visit she and a friend of hers made to our Mama (who is in the final stage of dementia).  During the course of the visit, her friend remarked how sweet and kind our Mama has always been, and that the dementia didn’t seem to change her personality any—she was still as sweet as ever. My sister responded that she believed that it was because Mama was so nice on the inside, and when she lost her ‘veneer’ it didn’t change who she really was—that it wasn’t simply a social nicety. At that point, her friend quipped, “Uh, oh, I better begin working on becoming nicer on the inside now, so when I lose my social veneer, it won’t be such a dramatic change.

Another person in the class said that they had heard it put that, “We are who we are, and as we age, we become more so.

The bible teaches us about the need for certain qualities such as showing mercy, genuinely forgiving others and ‘walking humbly with our God’.

There is no time like the present to work on becoming a better version of who we really are.

Have yourself a merry little memory

In a recent post, (It’s beginning to look alot like Christmas…) I wrote about helping your loved one awaken some memories using songs, smells and visual reminders of favorite Christmas traditions.

I would be remiss not to also emphasize the need for us to fix some of our own memories in our minds. Whether you are a caregiver, or someone who is simply concerned with memory issues. This season is a fabulous time to ‘set’ some of our own Christmas experiences into more permanent memories.finishing-well-in-life-decor-two

How? The secret is: Be sense-conscious with as many different senses at a time during this sensory-rich season of the year. Studies have shown that using multiple senses at the same time  actually works the best to help improve memory retention.

The Christmas season is filled with a multitude of sense-tickling treats. This is a good time to do something unusual or surprising for your brain. Whether you are by yourself or gathered with others, if possible, take a moment to sit down close your eyes. Try to identify what you hear and what you smell along with how you feel when you experience each of those things.

Examples might be: take in the sharp whiff of fresh cut pine, the soft alluring aroma of freshly baked cookies or simply the compelling combination of cooking smells emanating from the Christmas dinner. Listen to the sound of conversation, laughter, and familiar songs are all possible memory markers.

Don’t forget to also engage your emotions. If you include your feelings, you are more likely you are to remember something. All of these areas working together will help make your brain sit up and take notice. When it does, you release a natural growth hormone called neurotrophins, which enhances your brain’s fitness levels. Each time you open a new circuit, or a neural pathway, you do what amounts to mental sit-ups, but without the exertion.

What are some of your favorite ‘Senses of the Season’?

For that ‘Fidgety’ Feeling

If you are still wondering what to get someone who due to dementia might forget the gift shortly after receiving it, I just may have stumbled across the perfect answer. I just received an email about something called ‘Fidget Quilts. It looks like I’m a bit late to the party, as these don’t seem to be a new idea, but since I hadn’t heard about them before, I thought it might help others as well.

fiinishing-well-in-life-fidget-quilt
Fidget Quilt

Fidget quilts are similar to the activity blankets created for babies to help keep them busy and improve motor skills using fun things like crinkle balls, zippers, buttons as well as other shiny and colorful objects.

Folks  with dementia, or any type of cognitive impairment can become anxious or agitated with a change of location such as a doctor visit, hospital or a move to a care facility. The idea behind the fidget quilts is to provide something close at hand to give the hands something to do and hopefully provide the mind with enough of a distraction to allow it to get a bit of rest.

If you sew, or know a seamstress, it might be fun to design something for your loved-one that might be calming. To help out with ideas, a wide variety of examples can be found on Pintrest. If you don’t sew, there are a lot of places to order them online such as an Alzheimers Support page  as well as Etsy.com and Amazon.com.

fiinishing-well-in-life-twiddle-kitty
Twiddle Kitty

After doing a bit of clicking around the internet, I have discovered a whole world of ‘fiddle’ items available: Twiddle Muffs, Fiddle Cushions, Activity Aprons, Bibs, Twiddle Critters and even nut and bolt boards. All splendid ideas. The only caution I have found regarding this is that (just as with a baby), you want to make sure that everything is securely attached.

Have you found an activity that helps your loved-one with fidgeting hands? Or have an experience with the Fidget Quilt? Please share with us what you have learned.

It’s beginning to look alot like Christmas…

Everywhere you go….

One of the wonderful things about this time of the year is that it is steeped in all the essential elements that help stir and awaken the areas in our brains that have to do with memory.finishing_well-in-life-gingerbreadment

Songs. After my Mama was unable to carry on a conversation or even speak, she was still able to sing. On good days, I could pull one of her ‘heart songs’ out of her. Perhaps it is because, as my husband says, “Music does not reside in the brain, it lives in the soul.” Heart songs are special. Not every song learned becomes a ‘heart song’, only the ones that somehow get embedded into the fabric of our souls. Of all the songs that a person might learn over the course of their lifetime, Christmas songs are very likely on the list. Whether your loved one believes that Jesus is the reason for the Season, or Santa Clause is coming to town, find out what songs stir, and awaken the music inside.

Smells. Recent studies have shown there is indeed a benefit to smelling: The actual process of smelling helps stimulate the neural pathways in our brain to keep them clear or even encourage new branches. The Christmas season brings with it a whole gaggle of smells. From freshly cut pine, to warm Christmas cookies and a host of other, unique fragrances and aromas that arise during this time of the year. Do you have memories of certain smells associated with Christmas? If your loved one is your parent, perhaps those would be the ones to begin with.

Visual memories. Just as ‘music serves as a potent trigger for retrieving memories’, decorate, or collect bits and pieces that may stimulate a lifetime of Christmas memories. Did your loved one have favorite Christmas decorations? If you don’t know, perhaps ask family members or try the standard items that might trigger nostalgia such as garland, poinsettias and lights and bells. Memory Museums are popping up in many places that seem to help patients return to long-term memories of childhood and growing up.

If you are not already incorporating any of these suggestions, give them a try during this Christmas season. Of course, the nice thing about caring for someone who is no longer reading a calendar, Christmas could happen on a very regular basis.

Please share your Christmas season songs, smells and memories with us

More on: Neurobic exercises

In a previous post, ”Upside Down and Backwards”, I wrote about the benefits of Neurobic on brain function.

According to SheKnows.com Neurobics is the science of brain exercise.

Neurobic exercises in a nutshell are: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways. Break routines. Use your five physical senses as well as your emotional sense in unexpected ways to help you to shake up your everyday routines

A website called Physiotherapy-treatment.com  provides several Neurobic exercises to try. You don’t need to make too many changes at once, attempt things and find out what works for you. Develop a mindset that asks, “How can I do this differently?”

Since neurobic exercises can help make a person’s brain more responsive to mental challenges, they could actually enhance the quality of life for both care-giver and those being cared for.

According to “Keep Your Brain Alive” by Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D.,
there are conditions that make an exercise Neurobic.

It should do one or more of the following:

  1. Involve one or more of your senses in a novel context. By blunting the sense you normally use, force yourself to rely on other senses to do an ordinary task. For instance: Get dressed for work with your eyes closed. Eat a meal with your family in silence. Or combine two or more senses in unexpected ways: Listen to a specific piece of music while smelling a particular aroma.

  2. Engage your attention. To stand out from the background of everyday events and make your brain go into alert mode, an activity should be unusual, fun.

Begin with your morning routine:

They suggest such activities as, changing the usual smell you wake up to in the morning. Instead of coffee or tea, using a different smell or freshly baked bread will activate new neural pathways and change your usual morning olfactory association. Also try vanilla, citrus, peppermint, or rosemary. Keep an extract of your favorite aroma in an airtight container on your bedside table for a week and release it when you first awaken, and then again as you bathe and dress. By consistently linking a new odor with your morning routine, you are activating new neural pathways.

  1. Shower with your eyes closed. Locate the taps and adjust the temperature and flow using just your tactile senses. (Make sure your balance is good before you try this and use common sense to avoid burning or injury.) In the shower locate all necessary props by feel, then wash, shave, and so on, with your eyes shut. Your hands will probably notice varied textures of your own body you aren’t aware of when you are “looking.”

Physioherapy-treatment.com also offers some of the following suggestions:

  1. Use your non-dominant hand to eat food, brush hair or write. Also try brushing your teeth (don’t forget to open the tube and apply toothpaste in reverse, too).
  2. To use the side of your brain you don’t normally use close your eyes to wash, dress, open the front door, find your keys. This will help you strengthen your sense of touch.
  3. Getting dressed with the eyes closed.

These are only a few. Give them a try. I’ll keep a look-out for more and post them periodically.

Benefit from it, you will. 😉

“I’ll be me”

“I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road.
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload.
I hear you singin’ in the wire,
I can hear you through the whine, and the Wichita lineman is still on the line”

If you began singing along while reading those words, then perhaps you were also one of the Glen Campbell fans back in 1968 when this song was “singin’ in the wire” and right into the hearts and lives of both country and pop music fans.

I owned several of his albums when I was little. At the time, I didn’t know what type of music it was, but just knew I loved every song Glen Campbell sang.

My husband and I just watched a documentary called “Glen Campbell: I’ll be me” that is both inspiring and encouraging. It was about his Farwell Tour that the family embarked on after he received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The tour was originally scheduled to be a three-to-five-week goodbye tour, but ended up completing 151 concerts over a year and a half.

The documentary was filmed by Hollywood producer and Campbell’s long-time friend, James Keach, who also produced the award-winning Walk the Line, about Johnny and June Cash.

“Glen and his family are so in the moment, so supportive of one another and have really dedicated their life to changing the face of Alzheimer’s in America,” Keach says. “I think Glen’s legacy won’t just be music. It will be what he’s done with this journey with Alzheimer’s.”

The tour included three of his children in the back-up band. When discussing the tour and how Glen was able to accomplish it, his son, Cal Campbell sais “Maybe in his current state of haziness when he connects to something that he’s been doing for so long or brings him so much joy, I think he becomes himself again.”

Their attitude is to take each day as it comes, make the most of everyday, enjoy life and try to have fun. His son, Shannon Campbell added, “It’s not all bad, really. We get to celebrate his life while he’s still around.”

That is good advise whether you’re loved one is famous, rich and talented, or a simple soul. Try to do the activities that bring the most joy and celebrate life each day.

Kim, his wife of over 30 years, says, “We prepare for tomorrow, but try not to worry about tomorrow or else we can’t enjoy today.”

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he responded, “Just for what I am. I’m Glenn Campbell and I believe in God, I believe in other people. Treat others like the way you want to be treated and help others who are less fortunate.”

The documentary ends with his song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, which are both irony and a sad commentary considering the challenges he faces in life.

Good Bye, Glen, we’re going to miss you.

Are you a Glen Campbell fan? What is your favorite song?



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 a doll

I couldn’t believe my eyes. While I was at the care-home where my Mama lives, I noticed one of the residents in the hallway holding a tiny baby. What were they thinking? I quickly looked around for the baby’s mother. No one seemed to be paying any attention to her. Taking a closer look at the baby, I understood why –it was a doll! It was so lifelike, and the resident holding it looked so happy.

What a wonderful idea! Even if dementia has stolen and ripped away most of who your loved one was in their younger days, the maternal and paternal instinct is so deeply embedded into us as parents that the simple act of holding a (fake, weighted) doll can awaken the natural feelings that reside inside.

I did a bit of research to see if there had been any studies regarding the use of dolls for memory stimulation. Reading through the studies I could find, I learned that the dolls did, indeed seem to wake up the maternal or paternal instinct within many dementia patients. It did appear to have a greater effect on those in earlier stages of the disease.

One study in particular, conducted in 2007,  suggested doll therapy is a promising and effective approach to use in the care of older adults with dementia.

Many have found doll therapy to be a good way to engage loved ones while giving them a purposeful and rewarding activity. The dolls also seemed to have a calming effect and often created a distraction for them from upsetting events. Loved ones usually spent time rocking their baby dolls – which also helped them fall asleep. Another finding was that they often enjoyed singing to their doll, something family caregivers can join in or simply encourage their loved ones to sing on a regular basis.

The one major negative was that some family members or caregivers thought that giving a doll to someone with dementia was a demeaning and offensive practice.

The studies also agreed on some fundamental practices for the use of dolls:

  •  Do not call the doll a doll, refer to it as baby, or by name if your loved one has given it a name.
  • Provide a bassinet or small crib for the doll.
  • Do not purchase a who’s eyes open and close, or a doll that cries out loud, or as that could be upsetting.
  • Do not force the doll on your loved on. Let them discover, approach and hold the doll on their own time.
  • Be sure to communicate the purpose of the doll for any one else who may be providing care for your loved one.
  • Never remove the doll without permission of the person with dementia. When removing the doll, healthcare professionals and family members should hold the doll as if it were a living baby and explain where they are taking it, for example, if the doll is dirty, it is going to get a bath.

I believe that the bottom line is this is, try it, don’t force it and see what happens.

There is a Postize post on my Facebook group: Finishing Well for Caregivers that has some great photos folks with their dolls. Be sure to check it out as well.

What do you think about doll therapy? Have you found it to be an effective way to treat anxiety and behavioral issues in seniors with dementia, or do you believe that it is demeaning and an offensive practice?