The Arts and Alzheimer’s

My poetic friend, Michelle Pond, co-hosts a radio show about the arts. Recently, she interviewed Deborah Shouse, author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey, along with her performance buddy, Ron Zoglin. Both Deborah and Ron are entertainers as well as writers.

In this radio interview with Michelle, they discuss integrating the arts as therapy for the Alzheimer’s patient and they also perform some of Deborah’s stories.

Art for special populations is not a new idea . . .

. . . but it’s an idea that is blossoming.

The Alzheimer’s Reading Room sings the praises of music and art citing that researchers believe “the arts can improve cognitive function and memory, bolster a person’s mood and sense of well-being, and reduce stress, agitation and aggression.”

This is true for all of us. Most of us have playlists on Itunes or Pandora or Spotify. Music is said to be the universal language. Even when we lose our memories.

Especially when we lose our memories.

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While I was in college, I worked as a nurse’s aid in a home for the aged. One woman, who could not communicate to us verbally or make eye contact, would often sit in the hallway in her wheelchair and sing,

Gott Ist Die Liebe.”

It was a Lutheran nursing home, so many of the residents spoke German. I never actually heard this woman speak but she could still sing.

I have a degree in Therapeutic Recreation and when I worked in that field we often integrated music therapy into programs with special-needs children and with the elderly.

When I worked in a Senior Center, we played music from the era of the seniors. This is where I learned how to waltz. The men loved to show off their moves. They never forgot the feeling of dancing to the music even if their legs didn’t move as quickly as they once did.

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All the arts can be therapeutic

As for other the arts, my mom used to enjoy knitting and needlepoint but that is beyond her scope of ability now. A decade or so ago, she began making jewelry so for awhile I was stringing beads with her. It’s calming. At first. Then it becomes frustrating because she is unable to complete a task. Knowing when to distract her with something new is key.

Last year I made a couple of scrapbooks for her—the story of her life. It was a learning experience for me but a little confusing for her to see her life in a book. I thought it might help with her memory but I’m not sure. (I think it helped my memory more than hers.) And yet, looking at it kept her occupied until her attention waned. Even if she can’t follow along, we can use the scrapbook as a more of a picture book.

Our job is to consistently lower our expectations and find smaller and smaller tasks she can complete so that in that one moment she can feel useful. A word of advice: Our loved ones dignity is paramount. Be mindful of not judging them or of creating an atmosphere of failure. Enjoy what they enjoy while they still enjoy it.

Connecting with others is important

I’m encouraged that Michelle took the time to interview Deborah and Ron. Take a listen to the podcast. About fifteen minutes into the interview, Deborah and Ron perform a couple of Deborah’s stories. I know you’ll enjoy them.

One more word of advice: Reach out and connect. Connecting can reduce stress.

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2 thoughts on “The Arts and Alzheimer’s

  1. My mother died in 2000, but Deborah’s stories brought back memories as though they were recent. She and Ron are helping many people by sharing the stories as you are with this blog, Janice.

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