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English: Diagram of the brain of a person with...

English: Diagram of the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s Disease (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Worried about your risk of dementia? It’s common for relatives of elders with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia to wonder if they are at higher risk for these diseases as well. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Those who have a parent, brother, sister or child with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if more than one family member has the illness. When diseases tend to run in families, either heredity (genetics) or environmental factors, or both, may play a role.”

 

The good news is, genes are not destiny and it is thought that dementia is a result of a combination of genetics, environment, and lifestyle. There are more and more research dollars being directed towards prevention! Here is a look at some of the recent research that is trying to capture what can lower our risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

 

  • Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep Researchers have long known that sleep disorders and lack of sleep are risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
  • Stressful Middle Age Tied to Alzheimer’s Risk in Women While there is no definitive evidence that reducing your stress can prevent Alzheimer’s, there is a good deal of research indicating that chronic high stress is a predictor of Alzheimer’s risk. It pays to look at what we might be able to do to both reduce the stressors in our life and also to manage stress more effectively. Some great ways to manage stress include yoga, meditation, prayer, exercise, and relaxation exercise.
  • Systematic Review of Mediterranean Diet Confirms its Good for the Mind A recent systematic review of studies examining how a Mediterranean Diet might affect dementia risk confirmed that higher adherence to a Mediterranean Diet was associated with lower risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. A Mediterranean Diet is one that is high in olive oil, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and fish, as well as reduced consumption of dairy products and red meats.
  • Why Berries May Delay Decline of Memory  Berries aren’t just tasty, they also contain flavonoids which have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. What’s more, this study indicated that consumption of berries by women over 70 was associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline. So pick up some berries on your next trip to the store
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"The Favorite" - Grandfather and Gra...

“The Favorite” – Grandfather and Grandson – “Ο Αγαπημένος του Παππού” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a story from one woman about her experience discussing long term care with her mother. From her perspective, it sounds like it could have gone better! The author wishes she would have talked to her mother in person instead of writing an email. She also suggests that others start such charged conversations with “asking for permission” to discuss the issues first. However she also had some great questions for her mother to help spark discussion on planning for the future. These included:

  • Formation of a will
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Future residence plans should her mother or her mother’s husband pass away.
  • Seeing a financial planner

These are all great topics to discuss with our relatives and also to think about for ourselves.  I would add that another great topic to discuss with parents is setting up a durable power of attorney. Basically this role names someone as agent to make financial or healthcare decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. Details on arranging a durable power of attorney should of course be discussed with a legal advisor.

Part of naming an agent in such a role of course involves dicussing and writing out  your wishes. Recently, my own family experienced the death of a much-loved (and previously very heatlhy) cousin in her early sixties. She, an avid tennis player, musician, and dog-lover, unexpectedly became seriously ill due to an auto-immune disease which suddentlyl developed. She passed away within a month or so, much to the shock of our whole family who expected she would live into her nineties, much like her father before her. Unfortunately while she had chosen my father to make medical decisions for her, she had never discussed her wishes for care at the end-of-life. It was challenging for my father to help make decisions for her care in the last week or two without having any information about what she would have wanted and at the same time grieving for the loss of his one and only cousin. So don’t forget to have these conversations early and often, and to put them in writing!

These topics can be extremely difficult to bring up. They become esepcially difficult with those we love and who have cared for us in our younger years. However, conversing openly and honestly about such topics with our loved ones is the first step to having a good plan in place for the future.

Do you have any experiences discussing plans for the future with your relatives? Please tell us what worked and didn’t work!

Also, have you taken steps to address what would happen to your family and finances in the case of your own death or long term disability? Why or why not?

These pictures are a little of everything. We are always striving to provide sensory experiences and activities for our residents. Here is a small smattering of the goings-on at Magnolia and Primrose.

Coming soon….an August Luau!

This post is the second in a series of three on using art therapy for seniors with memory loss. It is based on our experience with our own care homes that specialize in caring for individuals with memory loss. See the first post, on the benefits of art therapy, here.

Doing art with our loved ones is not just about getting meaningless coloring pages to fill in the day. It isn’t about getting through an activity as fast as we can to move on to the next activity. It’s about using art as a process to enrich lives, access memories, and give meaning and structure to the day.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some guidelines for making art truly therapeutic….and fun!

  • Choose Easy but Meaningful Art Projects- Projects that are two difficult for elders may just create frustration. For instance, this last Easter we bought a kit to make Ukrainian eggs! They pictures on the box were GORGEOUS, but we knew right away that the project would be too difficult due to the amount of precision and time required. On the other hand, choosing activities that are too easy or childish might result in less interest. For example, gluing cotton balls to a paper to make a cloud is easy, but some individuals could find it irrelevant or even demeaning. The trick is to find something both doable and meaningful to get the most out of the time.
  • Develop Themes – Themes are a wonderful way to give meaning to activities and to create continuity between the day, week, or month. For example, at Magnolia and Primrose we picked a different April-related theme for each week in April. “Themes of the week” in April included baseball, spring blossoms, and Easter. To develop a theme, look at what holidays, seasons, or special dates are coming up soon. Use the theme to connect the art to special memories For instance, one of the activities during baseball week was making a pennant. Elders could put their names, special number, favorite teams, whatever on it! During the activity, conversation about baseball memories are easily evoked and great conversation ensues. Displaying art afterwards also helps continue the theme and build upon it with future activities.

    A baseball that has been extensively used

    Nearly everyone has strong baseball memories!(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Use Art to Reminisce and Converse-  Individuals with memory loss or Alzheimer’s may have trouble remembering recent events, but many can recall treasured memories of the past., and many love to reminisce on these memories. Art projects can be one way to start conversation about these memories. Even a simple coloring page of an apron or a jack-o-lantern can become meaningful because of the conversation it facilitates.
  • Involve Children- Many elders love to visit with children. You should see how some of our resident’s light up when children come for a “play date”! If your loved one has children that come to visit, try to involve all of them in some form of art! Many times I see our residents brighten at the chance to help a young child with a craft If a craft is too hard, music is another lovely way to create art and connect the generations. Choose songs that seniors know and that are easy to teach children. Add household instruments and voila!
  • Break it Into Pieces– More difficult projects CAN be done, but frequently they need to be broken into stages. This can be beneficial though as they again provide continuity and a sense of purpose. Don’t be afraid to break an art project into several days!
  • Follow your loved one’s Lead- When he or she says an art piece is done, it’s done!
  • Use a Variety of Mediums-Art is a sensory experience. Using a variety of senses is great for the brain! Try lots of different mediums: not only to see what your loved one is most capable of, but also to stimulate different parts of the brain. When we do art pages at Magnolia & Primrose, we know that some people are great with a paintbrushes and enjoy water colors. For others, a paintbrush is frustrating and crayons or makers are more appropriate. Beyond coloring & painting on a page you can do ceramics, origami with colorful paper, music, weaving, paper flowers, collages, and mosaics….the sky is the limit!

    Doodle Art

    Doodling is a great way to encourage self-expression. It can also be done as a group activity for fun! You start with a group of people in a circle. Everyone has one minute to start a doodle on their page. After a minute, the artists pass their papers and the next person adds another doodle. The end result is often interesting (and funny as well!)

  • Encourage self-expression- Planned art projects are wonderful and have their place, but there is a huge place for self-expression! Take for example painting: painting a picture of  country farm by coloring in the lines is fine and may work well for some individuals. This may not, however, allow for much self-expression. On the other hand, many people with dementia would not be able to create a farm scene from a blank piece of paper. However, placing part of a farm scene on a paper  (such as grass and a fence) and having a discussion on farms may provide more space for self-expression.
  • Always consider safety – Some individuals may eat small beads or put toxic substances in their mouth. Also sharp objects may need supervision, so please consider safety always!

Hopefully this post gave you some guidance for using art with your loved one. Next time in post 3 of 3 on Art Therapy. we will discuss where to find ideas for projects and how to find inexpensive resources!

March brings with it blossoms, shamrocks, and all things Irish, and we’ve been itching to get started on these craft and art projects! My excitement over our projects for March got me thinking. Why is art so important? Why do people of all ages enjoy pariticipating in artistic activities? This blog post then begins a three part series on art and artistic expression for seniors with memory loss or Alzheimer’s Disease. While I am by no means an artist or expert on the subject, that is exactly the point. ANYONE…even individuals with significant cognitive decline, can find pathways for expression through art.

Blossoming Tree Project for March

Blossoming Tree Project for March: This picture was made by applying dots of paint by a Q-tip to a pre-printed picture of an empty tree. The use of pink in this picture gives the impression of a cherry tree!

Why Make Art a Priority?

At the Magnolia and Primrose care home, we believe that art and activities are at least as important as medications. Why is that?

  • Art provides other avenues for self-expression which is a huge bonus for individuals with diminishing language capabilities. It uses parts of the brain that are often easier to tap into than language skills and which degenerate slower than other parts of the brain.
  •  Additionally, art therapy can prove calming for some individuals during episodes of agitation. Similar effects are seen with music, animals, and even just viewing art!
  • Art is also useful in building relationships. Caregivers and elders can work together on projects which in turn strengthens their bond together. It can also be used to provide intergenerational interactions between elders and children. Finally, group art projects can build a sense of community in care homes and assisted living facilities. For example, last month each resident was giving a square piece of cardstock with a simple heart outline on it. Each resident was given the opportunity to fill in their hearts with magazine clippings, drawings, or coloring. At the end, all the hearts were combined with pieces of valentine cardstock to create a quilt like effect. The residents were very proud of the beautiful “quilt” they created together!

 To learn more about the intersection between art therapy and neuropsychology, check out this fascinating article about how art therapy can be used and what it does.

Finally, I came across this video from the International Art Therapy Organization in my search for more information about art therapy. It is a fascinating and deeply moving story of a man who started painting for the first time after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Check out their page on neurodegenerative disorders for more information.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_Te-s6M4qc&feature=player_embedded

Blog Posts Coming soon…..

  • 2 of 3: Reaching the InnerArtist: Tips for creating art with those with memory loss
  • 3 of 3: Ideas and Resources for Artistic Expression: Where can you find easy but meaningful projects?

One of the things we are passionate about at the Magnolia and Primrose care homes is caring for elders on a holistic level and addressing spiritual and emotional needs beyond just physical and social needs.

One of the ways we do this is through integrating animals and visits from children in the care home. Most people respond to animals with very positive emotions. Our residents’ faces light up and they love stroking the soft fur of cats and dogs. It is not just our residents who enjoy animals, there is research to suggest that animal therapy provides tangible benefits to elders and elders with dementia in particular. According to this review, studies show that the presence of animals reduces aggression and agitation and promotes social interaction. There is even some evidence to suggest that animals can encourage better eating at meal times. Other possible benefits of animal therapy include increased exercise and mobility (ex. throwing a ball, grooming, short walks) and of course, pleasure.

Because of the obvious benefits of animal interactions, we have tried to integrate animals of all kinds into our care homes. Currently at Magnolia we have a pair of parakeets that keep the air lively with bird chatter. Next door at Primrose, three zebra finches flit about  in their habitat and their soft tweets add a pleasant ambiance. Outside our garden frequently welcomes wild birds and butterflies. The owner’s dog, Roxy, also loves to come visit the residents and warm their laps.

Our next step is to add permanent pets to the care homes that residents can help care for and feel ownership over. To this end, we recently adopted two white mini poodle puppy brothers. They are hypoallergenic, loving, and the perfect size for a lap dog. Once they are completely trained they will move to the care home to be permanent therapy dogs. For now, they come by for short visits to get used to the home and the equipment they might see her. We couldn’t resist snapping this picture of one of our residents and a puppy, both of whom have cast right now for breaks. Dont’ worry, both are healing!

Music with EldersWe may not be in Venice Beach, but drum circles are starting up at Magnolia and Primrose! Last night we hosted our first drum circle with residents of both care homes and it was AMAZING. Everyone participated and had a great time whether they were drumming a beat, shaking a maraca, or playing the tambourine.  Residents copied rhytms, created their own rhytms, and later added percussion to guitar played by Susie Halsell. We liked it so much that our “drum circle” will be a permanent weekly fixture around here.

So, what is a drum circle? A drum circle can mean lots of different things, Basically its any group of people playing percussion in a circle. The focus is on the event itself, not practicing for a performance or attempting to make an actual song. Here is a great quotation from Mickey Hart, Grateful Dead drummer, during a testimony before the United States Special Committee on Aging,

Typically people gather to drum in drum “circles” wiht others from the surrounding community. The drum circle offers equality because there is no head or tail. It includes people of all ages. The main objective is to share rhythm and get in tune with each other and themselves. To form a group consciousness. To entrain and resonate. By entertainment, I mean that a new voice, a collective voice, emerges from the group as they drum together.

Why do a drum circle? Well there are lots of benefits to this form of expression and music! They include:

  • Loosening stiff joints in the arms and hands
  • Improving circulation in the arms and hands
  • Providing an easily accessible mild exercise
  • Stimulating the mind with music
  • Building a sense of group identiy
  • Can easily be done as an intergenerational activty with youth.
  • Really fun, many say it “makes them feel young again”

So, what do you need to start your own drum circle? While fancy African drums and bongos would be wonderful, you can also find many other less expensive instruments. In fact, it’s nice to have a variety of percussion instruments since every participant may have a different capabilities with their hands and arms and different interests. Here are some things we used last night that worked out great

  • large metal coffee cans for drumming. Oatmeal cartons work too!
  • small glass bottles filled with beans or other small objects
  • hatboxes (they make great makeshift drums!)
  • maracas ( often inexpensive)
  • a stick rubbed on the outside of a ridged coffee can
  • get creative!

Have you ever been a part of a drum circle? What instruments would YOU add?Ladies of the drum circle