Compassionate Care for Alzheimer’s Disease sufferers – a New Day?

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“Alzheimer’s patients turn to faraway lands to be in caring hands’   by Denis P. Gray, AP 12/30/14

The Pilot shared an insightful AP article with readers yesterday.  It was a real eye-opener to learn that the cultures of Thailand and the Phillipines allow for markedly healthier and happier life experiences for people with dementia, and western Europeans are choosing to have their loved ones cared for there.  Gray’s comparison of ‘an old, cold lady who gives you pills and tells you to go  to bed,’ to a caretaker who ‘sits on the grass…, gently massaging his legs and tickling his chin,’ is the difference between night and day, or perhaps happiness and despair.  How did we develop into a society that abhors aging?  Why are we getting dependent care for the disabled and elderly so wrong as a society?

Since 2004, Tidewater Arts Outreach has worked to shift paradigms toward people with special needs.  We have been creating dozens of music and arts programs and experiences each month for people in long-term care, crisis care, and other dependent-care settings.  Our work has always had a strong focus on the elderly.  While there are benefits for people of all ages to engage in creative self-expression through the arts, new research shows the positive outcomes afforded for people with dementia are even more pronounced. We have seen, many times over, the win/win situation created when engaging community artists, using the arts as a bridge, are involved in the lives of the elderly.  Sadly, we also have seen the isolation, frustration, loneliness and withdrawal that often occur in group care settings. Another depressing reality:  staff turnover in long-term care settings is 40% in many cases, greatly contributing to increased health care costs. 

On January 22, Tidewater Arts Outreach brings international trainer and poet Gary Glazner to town to train workshop attendees on the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, a group process he started for creating and celebrating poetry.  On January 25 the ME Cox Center, another local not-for-profit, brings elder-care author, nurse and teacher Teepa Snow to town to present effective ways of communicating with people who have disabilities.  The elder care community needs and deserves many more programs like these to influence our perceptions of how we might care for our aged and infirm.  

We have turned the act of aging into a medical condition, instead of the natural process it is. There is no cure for dementia, only a life of learning to live with it, for those suffering from this horrible disease.  We can create wonderful, living communities in America for our elderly, where compassionate care is affordable and where life is celebrated daily.  Thailand is showing us the way.  Clearly, we can do more for the growing population of people being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. We need to demand more of our healthcare system and of ourselves.

Posted in Arts and Health, Arts in Long Term Care, Community Volunteers, Dementia, Geriatrics, Holistic Healthcare, Training and Workshops | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

TAO’s first vocal group for seniors

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It was Recital Day. The singers were seated, wearing black and white. Vocal coach Caroline Murphy Turco was warming up, greeting participants and checking lyrics pages. Singers smiled and said ‘hi’ to one another in greeting; looks of excitement were evident. Some participants were present one minute, then gazing absently away the next – a sign of their dementia. The large community room was filling up quickly.

The small group of singers and residents at Beth Sholom Terrace’s memory wing had come a long way from a year before, when the idea of a vocal singing group in a long-term care community was being formed.

In July 2012, Tidewater Arts Outreach ED MaryAnn Toboz approached Warren Aleck, a long-time TAO supporter, with the idea. Warren and MaryAnn reached out to the Tidewater Jewish Foundation and Beth Sholom Village, and soon we met with Philip Rovner, David Abramson and Allison Whiteman to outline what would become a year-long chorus project. David and Allison decided that their memory unit residents at the Beth Sholom Terrace would be ideal for this group. A proposal was created and TAO secured the Caroline’s services. Caroline, a young opera singer and vocal coach who gives singing lessons privately and through Hurrah Players, met with senior singers twice each month. Together they worked on breath, posture, reading lyrics, vocal warm-ups and SINGING. They sang oldies, Broadway tunes, pop hits of yesteryear and the Beatle’s “Yellow Submarine” (a favorite). Tentative at first, as the weeks went on singers became more confident.

Beth Sholom Terrace staff Nicole Gearhart related, “Our residents were motivated to come to regular practice and to sing. They were genuinely excited to participate. Music is inspirational – it makes them feel good and it makes them happy.” Program participants expressed appreciation for the on-going music series, with individuals reporting that they ‘felt better physically,’ ‘enjoyed the group experience’ and ‘learned something new.’
Caroline has a grandmother who lives with memory loss, so she is familiar with the struggles of both people living with the disease and their caregivers. But, she wrote, “working with the singers was still a very new experience, if only because each person reacted so differently…The group certainly taught me patience. I had to learn to slow down a bit. The group reacted best when it was clear that I was having fun.”
On their big day, “Participants were really excited about going down and performing for the recital,” said Nicole. As guests came into the room on recital day, the Beth Sholom Singers were clearly ready to have a good time. They were seated in the front of the room, looking elegant in black and white. “Welcome!” one singer exclaimed. “This is great!,” said another. Caroline focused everyone’s attention on the lyric sheets in hand. They launched into “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and were off, immersed in tempo and melody, and completely involved in the music they were creating together. The room, filled with residents, family, staff and friends, applauded appreciatively after each number. Caroline showed off her vocal prowess via several solo selections, to everyone’s delight.

The next stop for these singers is not Carnegie Hall. We hope it’s more celebration through regular song sessions, with plenty of help from singers and musicians in our community. With community support, many more projects, and their many benefits, are possible.

Tidewater Arts Outreach thanks Beth Sholom Village, the Tidewater Jewish Foundation and Warren and Helen Aleck for their generous support.

Posted in Arts and Health, Arts in Long Term Care, Dementia, Geriatrics, Holistic Healthcare, Music and Memory, Music Therapy, Parkinson's, Recreation Therapy, Rehabilitation, seniors, Stroke, TAO Programs | Tagged , | 3 Comments

How to Cope with an Ageing Population

This article, recently published in The Lancet, talks about quality of life concerns for our world’s aging population.  It includes an interesting summary of findings of how countries around the world fare when it comes to healthy living of its eldest members.  Not surprisingly (to those of us involved in arts and health), it ends in this way, “Success in other medical specialties means that the world’s population is getting old. To allow it to do so gracefully will require early investment and cooperation between health and social care.”

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TAO’s Recent Opening Minds Through Art Workshop

Observations on an impactful visual arts workshop presented by Tidewater Arts Outreach, in partnership with Sentara Life Care

Opening Minds Through Art?  Wow, does it ever!  I came to realize that Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) is about so much more than working with seniors who have dementia to enable them to create lovely works of modern art. Minds are opened across the board in this well-conceived process.   1.  All staff receives training about the process, learning, when, where and for how long resident art-making happens.  Staff develop an appreciation for the process and its outcomes, and are encouraged not to disrupt for unnecessary intercom announcements, pills, PT, or other ADLs (activities of daily living).  Staff also has the opportunity to get to know their patients on another, more humanizing level.  The art-making allows them to focus on residents as individuals and to see their abilities, rather than disabilities.  Many are amazed by what is still possible, and how rewarding art-work can be.

2.  Young people serve as one-on-one partners and learn about the rich histories of the artists: they were pilots, judges, Broadway actresses, CEOs, brain surgeons and more.  They better understand the human condition, the needs of the very eldest in our midst, and their own mortality.  3.  The seniors themselves have their minds opened through the process of creating art – they use logic, reasoning, executive thought processes and creative self-expression (and more).  The intellectual stimulation and the humanistic value of “What does this painting say about me?”  cannot be under-estimated in an institutionalized world where almost every individual freedom has been forsaken in the name of safety and security.

4.  Family members who may have decided months ago that there’s nothing much left but a shell or shadow of their former loved one are often amazed at the creative self-expression they witness.

Workshop participants learned this about dementia:  as intellectual abilities erode, other abilities rise to the surface.  Emotional empathy makes seniors with dementia more sensitive, and more vulnerable.   Some aspects, like creativity and personality, are the last to leave as other cognition fails.

Elizabeth Lokon founded OMA in 2008, after deciding that dementia was the most difficult prognosis she could imagine for herself.  She immersed herself in the study of dementia and in the creation of this program, and she now says, “I’m no longer afraid of it.  I discovered the essence of human potential in people with dementia.”

The OMA workshop received rave reviews from the 29 attendees.  Comments from LTC staff include, “It is a whole new way of looking at working with and improving quality of life for the elderly.”  Another wrote that “Understanding the importance of allowing people with Alzheimer’s the opportunity to use their creativity,” and “learning that art is a form of expression” were valuable lessons for her.    Sadly, another realized that “One person can’t stimulate 40 people at once!,” something that happens all too often.

At TAO we’re dedicated to opening doors, hearts and minds to the possibilities that exist for communities who embrace each other, and the arts, and who make efforts to come together to share comfort, inspiration and creativity as a charitable endeavor.  There is so much untapped human potential, on both sides or the able, if we do.  We thank Elizabeth Lokon for her beautiful process and Sentara Life Care for helping us bring her to share her work with the Hampton Roads community.

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Posted in Art Therapy, artists, Arts and Health, arts for seniors, Arts in Healthcare, Arts in Long Term Care, Community Volunteers, Dementia, Program Development, Recreation Therapy, Rehabilitation, seniors, Training and Workshops, Visual Arts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Funding Dilemmas for Arts and Health for Seniors

20110519_Creeekers_6152Tidewater Arts Outreach artists work with a variety of clients, in a variety of settings and with lots of great creative tools, performances and programs.  By a fair margin, the largest demographic we serve are seniors who are in dependent care day and long-term residential programs.  The residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities is a primary group for TAO, for a number of reasons:

·         Accessibility – We can schedule programs in the daytimes, evenings and weekends, all over Hampton Roads, in facilities, hospitals, shelters and other congregate care settings.

·         Need – People in these facilities are often are underserved in quality of life type programs such as the arts can afford.  Mental stimulation and emotional support are so important for this group, and staff should not have to be the sole providers.

·         Artists – there is a great deal of personal reward for artists who are able to connect meaningfully with participants.  Facility staff appreciates meeting new artists through TAO.

·         Variety – The type of arts programs that seniors can participate in include poetry, songwriting, singing, dancing, playing instruments, painting, sculpting (and more).  TAO actively helps artists refine their arts offering to meet needs in long-term care.

SO… we have a waiting list of places requesting programs, and a waiting list of artists wanting to serve.  We know the need is great, the artists are ready, and we are working just as hard as we can to create amazing programs designed to inspire and delight.  And it is happening – dozens of times each month.  The survey reports we get back are fantastic – over the top ‘excellent’ ratings – but where is the funding?    What is the real value of TAO and its programs to long-term care administrators and the corporations they report to?

The programs are expensive to produce –  approximately $400 apiece.   This may seem high, but when you consider how much it costs to raise money, rent an office, and hire, train and pay the staff that directly support the work; it all adds up and it all factors into program cost.  What portion of this is realistic for the facilities to pay?  What are the competing priorities for discretionary income in long-term care?   We need to answer these questions if we are to remain successful.

TAO is looking for marketing professionals to help us assess the market and create a strategy for raising awareness and obtaining support.  It’s becoming increasingly important.

We’re considering reducing the number of programs we produce, so we can afford to adequately support everyone.   That is a sad, but true, outcome of our current financial situation.  Thank goodness culture change is coming to long-term care facilities.  We see the arts, with all their opportunities for self-expression, self-determination, identity, communication, socialization and normalization as being a key component for the culture change movement – for staff and residents alike.

My fellow baby boomers, it’s time to wake up, smell the coffee, see the writing on the wall and fix our own future, while we have a fighting chance.  The arts present a way for many of us to interact positively with those in long term care.  In the process, we are supporting the staff who have such tough jobs and who work so hard.  We are bearing witness.  We are sharing joy and helping people reclaim and tell their stories.  We’re helping artists get the means to share their special gifts, with folks who sorely need access to creativity and the benefits of creative-self expression.   It is important work.  The people we serve are important, too.   They had full lives, they contributed to society, held important jobs, raised terrific kids, and on and on.  It’s time we help each other make our very oldest society members a part of our community again.  We can fix this.  Please share your ideas and comments – and thank you for your support.

Posted in artists, Arts and Health, arts for seniors, Arts in Healthcare, Arts in Long Term Care, Community Volunteers, Dementia, Geriatrics, Holistic Healthcare, Ilness, Music and Memory, Program Development, Recreation Therapy, Rehabilitation, seniors, Stroke | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The song was written and produced by Larry Berwald at Soul Haven Studios.  The video was created by Jim Knox Photography.

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Visual Arts Workshop for Moms and Kids in Shelter – by Elizabeth Cunningham, M.S.

Eliz Cunninggham at Dwelling PlaceElizabeth Cunningham is an art therapist who presents programs regularly for Tidewater Arts Outreach. Here, she recounts a March 2013 program at The Dwelling Place in Norfolk.  Family homeless shelters are challenging places to present programs.  Common areas are small, families are ‘in crisis’ by the time they end up in shelter, and children, moms and staff handle large stress-loads daily.    For all of these reasons, it is difficult for TAO to allow observers to these programs.  This report offers a glimpse into how our programs augment the lives of women and children in transition.  Our goals of our programs in family shelters are to engage both parents and children…many parents are very young themselves, and often have not had much experience in the arts.  We want to show them that quality family time can be had, for very little cost, through a variety of arts experiences.

I arrived 40 minutes early to set up…  Families ate dinner and wandered in and out of the living room, curious about what was planned for the evening.  After meeting the residents, I offered to write their names in calligraphy on gold paper/cards and found each person to be eager to receive one, and eager for their family members and friends to receive theirs was well.  A “hum” of happiness and enthusiasm began to build in the house as residents anticipated beginning their Colorful Collage group.  By 7:00, twelve residents chose to attend the Colorful Collage group; five adults and seven children. We opened by discussing how simple artwork can encourage and inspire us!

MaryAnn and Casey volunteered to tend to the younger children in order to give parents the time needed to attend the event.  They had their hands full — and the children adored them.  One tiny boy wanted Casey to never leave and to stay with him at the Dwelling Place!

Images surrounding poverty and homelessness are often dark and negative. But providing collage materials based in nature seemed to guide residents toward hopeful and bright images and associations. As residents worked on their collages, conversations turned peaceful and relaxed …they enjoyed the natural images they chose for their artwork, and affirmed one another’s artwork as well. Several residents spoke spontaneously of hopeful and realistic plans for the near future, and positive reflections on their own abilities as they made associations to the images they had chosen to put in their artwork.

Half-way through the event, cares of the day seems to have dissipated and there were pleasant smiles all around the room.  Residents focused and worked thoughtfully and made decisions regarding what to include in their artwork, and what could be left out (as in life).

The opportunity to relax, enjoy a positive, nurturing and creative event met the emotional and psychological needs of adults and children. At the end of the evening, a quiet and more hopeful sense of peace hung in the air, no one was eager to leave, and several wanted more time to continue making collages. A few of the adult residents requested collage supplies to take back to their rooms in The Dwelling Place so they could make additional works of art. It was a special evening worth the wait.

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