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Photo: TracyRittmueller.com

Poet Tracy Rittmueller is a friend I connected with through blogging. We almost met in person when she was living in Rhode Island, but she moved home to Minnesota after her husband developed a mild cognitive impairment that is associated with non-Alzheimer dementia.

I’m telling you that so you will understand the origins of her resonant poem about a broken cup. It seems to start with her husband’s impairment and spread outward into other lives and ways of understanding. Here it is in part.

What Is There About Us Always
by Tracy Rittmueller

“You gave me a teacup, terra-cotta inside, outside
sun-washed like some villas in Italy.
“It pleased me, as it pleases me when
every morning you wake early
“to prepare my tea, even now when you cannot remember
the day, washing dishes I knocked my teacup
“against the faucet. My teacup. I gathered
ochre shards, trashed them on the day’s spent tea
“leaves, said nothing. Finding those fragments
you spoke one word. Oh. Rinsed them,
“dried them, glued them together. …

“Sometimes I worry your tenuous
“memory will fracture our companionship.
But I know who you are, always the one
“who salvaged those wrecked remnants—
my heart—to restore that broken vessel—me.”

Read the whole poem here.

About her life these days, Tracy writes, “I am greatly supported by a monastery of Benedictine women, who have basically adopted us. They have over 200 Sisters, whose average age is 83. They have so much experience with this, and model for me how to care for [him] with compassion and respect, while making sure I’m not sacrificing my health or my life to do it. Plus, they all understand what’s happening with him, and very skillfully befriend him so that I’m not his sole sense of safety and love in this world. We’re content and live together with a great amount of love and serenity, and I’m very, very grateful. …

“I’m clearing every unnecessary thing out of my life, a process that I’m still going through, moving toward an ever more simple and quiet life, because that’s what suits my personality, temperament, and my physical/mental/spiritual health needs. I suppose from the outside it might look like I’ve gone hermit, but I am richly supported by the Sisters and associates circling around the monastery, where I find more intelligent, kind, wise, eccentric-interesting, and helpful people than I can keep up with, and by my community of weirdly wonderful poet-friends. And, as this pandemic is teaching us, there are myriad ways to connect without leaving one’s house.”

Read one of Tracy’s recent articles on poetry. You might also like to check out a blog post she wrote at GoodReads.

Photo: Spinningpots.com

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Photo: Richard Saker for the Guardian
“Oh, this is fun. I feel as if I’m at the party.” Seniors fighting off dementia benefit from Wayback Virtual Reality.

I often think I overdid it in early 2000 repeating myself over and over to encourage an impaired relative to remember her childhood, but an article by Giulia Rhodes in the Guardian suggests that stirring up old memories can indeed be helpful to seniors with dementia.

“In a comfortable armchair, glass of sherry at her side,” writes Rhodes, “Elspeth Ford is getting to grips with her 3D goggles. …

“Elspeth, 79, is a resident at Langham Court, a dementia care home in Surrey, and today she is trialling a virtual reality project, Wayback, that has been designed especially for those living with dementia. Peering into her headset, Elspeth is temporarily transported to 2 June 1953, and a street party for the Queen’s coronation. She is enjoying a children’s fancy-dress competition. ‘I love that boy dressed as an Oxo cube,’ she laughs.

“This is the first in what will become a series of virtual reality films set at historic moments, and available free for those with dementia, their families and carers to enjoy together through a mobile phone and a pair of inexpensive 3D goggles. The idea was developed by three advertising creatives with family experience of dementia.

“For Camilla Ford, Elspeth’s daughter, it is an exciting concept. ‘It gave Mum a huge amount of pleasure and really engaged her,’ she says. … ‘She was immersed in this and it took her back to a time of happy memories, when she was productive and emotionally fulfilled.’

“Elspeth has had vascular dementia for seven years, and finding a point of contact increasingly involves moving to where she is, rather than trying to bring her into the present, says Camilla. ‘If she is in a place she can identify with, and we can see it too, we are somehow equalised. We are at a stage where we aren’t trying to create memories but to relish positive emotions, dropping the expectation of who Mum was and just being with the person in front of us.’

“Elspeth sets off for lunch with her son Dominic, still smiling. It is unlikely, says Camilla, that her mother will remember what has made her feel happy. ‘The point is that she feels uplifted, not necessarily that she knows why.’

“Dan Cole, one of Wayback’s creators, agrees. ‘If the film can open some memories, start a conversation or bring a smile, that’s a success,’ he says. The idea began to form after a drive around Camden, north London, with his father, then in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. ‘It was his old stomping ground and he kept recognising places and telling me little tales; the pub his dad drank in, where he hung about with his mates, even an alley where he once got into a scrap,’ says Dan. ‘In that fleeting moment it was so clear in his mind. I could ask questions. He could tell me things.’ …

“The resulting film was made over two days in a north-London street (satellite dishes and other modern trappings digitally removed) with a volunteer cast and crew of 187 and painstakingly sourced period props, costumes and menu (fish-paste sandwiches, notes one Langham Court resident approvingly). …

“Langham Court’s philosophy is based on the Butterfly Household model, devised by Dr David Sheard, a dementia specialist and CEO of Dementia Care Matters, who is supporting Wayback. ‘People living with dementia become more feeling beings than thinking beings,’ he says. ‘Feelings endure and are more to be trusted when facts diminish.’ ”

More.

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Photo: Alamy
Exercise and social activities could help to reduce the risk of developing dementia in later life, according to a new report.

Although there is no cure yet for dementia, lifestyle changes have the potential to reduce new cases by as much as one-third.

Nicola Davis writes at the Guardian about a recent report from the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care. The study suggests that many “dementia cases might be avoided by tackling aspects of lifestyle including education, exercise, blood pressure and hearing. …

“ ‘There are a lot of things that individuals can do, and there are a lot of things that public health and policy can do, to reduce the numbers of people developing dementia,’ said Gill Livingston, professor of psychiatry of older people at University College London and a co-author of the report. …

“ ‘We expect it to be a long-term change that will be needed for exercise; joining a gym for two weeks is probably not going to do it,’ she said.

“Clive Ballard, professor of age-related diseases at the University of Exeter medical school and also a co-author of the report, added that the evidence suggests individuals should also try to follow a Mediterranean diet, maintain a healthy weight and keep an eye on their blood pressure. …

“The results reveal that as many as 35% of dementia cases could, at least in theory, be prevented, with 9% linked to midlife hearing loss, 8% to leaving education before secondary school, 5% to smoking in later life and 4% to later life depression. Social isolation, later life diabetes, midlife high blood pressure, midlife obesity and lack of exercise in later life also contributed to potentially avoidable cases of dementia, the report notes. …

“They admit that the estimate that more than a third of dementia cases could be prevented is a best case scenario, with the figures based on a number of assumptions, including that each factor could be completely tackled. …

“Fiona Matthews, professor of epidemiology at Newcastle University who was not involved in the report, said that interventions for depression and social isolation could still prove valuable. ‘If we could actually resolve some of that issue, even if it is not 100% causal, it is likely we might be able to slow [dementia] progression – even if [an individual] is on a pathway to developing dementia already,’ she said.

“She added that the proposed areas for action could offer myriad health benefits beyond lowering dementia risk. …

“The authors pointed out that an intervention that delayed dementia onset and progression by even a year could decrease the number of people with dementia worldwide in 2050 by nine million.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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According to Josh Planos at the Atlantic, the forward-looking Dutch are at it again. Not only are they on the cutting edge in matters such as energy use and floating forests, they have anticipated the increase in Alzheimer’s diagnoses, creating a village where patients can feel normal.

“The isolated village of Hogewey lies on the outskirts of Amsterdam in the small town of Wheesp. Dubbed ‘Dementia Village’ by CNN, Hogewey is a cutting-edge elderly-care facility — roughly the size of 10 football fields — where residents are given the chance to live seemingly normal lives.

“With only 152 inhabitants, it’s run like a more benevolent version of The Truman Show, if The Truman Show were about dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Like most small villages, it has its own town square, theater, garden, and post office. Unlike typical villages, however, this one has cameras monitoring residents every hour of every day, caretakers posing in street clothes, and only one door in and out of town, all part of a security system designed to keep the community safe. Friends and family are encouraged to visit. Some come every day.

“Last year, CNN reported that residents at Hogewey require fewer medications, eat better, live longer, and appear more joyful than those in standard elderly-care facilities. …

“Residents are only admitted if they’re categorized as having ‘severe cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.’ Vacancies are rare, given that a spot only opens when a current resident passes away, and the village has operated virtually at full capacity since it opened in 2009.

“Hogewey was primarily funded by the Dutch government and cost slightly more than $25 million to build. The cost of care is nearly $8,000 per month, but the Dutch government subsidizes the residents—all of whom receive private rooms—to varying degrees; the amount each family pays is based on income, but never exceeds $3,600.”

More at the Atlantic.

Where did I just hear about someone with Alzheimer’s? Oh, right. A detective series on TV. So moving. Boy, I hope that detective’s daughter knows about this village.

Photo: Gabriel Rocha/Flickr

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In case you missed it, there’s a new movie about using elderly people’s favorite music to call them back from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The website for Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory says the movie is an “exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity. Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music.”

The documentary follows “social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it. Rossato-Bennett visits family members who have witnessed the miraculous effects of personalized music on their loved ones, and offers illuminating interviews with experts including renowned neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) and musician Bobby McFerrin (‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’).”

At the Washington Post, Michael Sullivan writes, “The benefits of music to enliven and awaken the senses are not limited to those with dementia. ‘Alive Inside’ also focuses on a woman who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and on a man with multiple sclerosis. The scenes in which they and others are shown listening to music that has personal meaning are absolutely joyous, but they also might move you to tears.

“As the movie makes clear, none of these conditions are reversible. Music isn’t a cure for anything. But it does seem to be a key to unlocking long-closed doors and establishing connections with people who have become, through age or infirmity, imprisoned inside themselves.” More.

Hmmm. It seems that in addition to making wills, we should all be writing lists of the music that we have enjoyed in our lives so that people know what to play. Should I go with “Swan Lake” and “The New World Symphony” or “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “Mary’s Boychild”? Or how about the Platters and Elvis and Nina Simone and Edif Piaf or musicals like Nine and Chess. Anything in a minor key.

I haven’t even scratched the surface.

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