Creative engagement and dementia care.

I spent an interesting two days learning from and presenting to Hampton Roads caregivers of people with dementia, at the Alzheimer’s Association’s caregiver conferences in Hampton and Franklin, VA.  

Our hearts go out to the caregivers of people living with dementia.  Many are unpaid spouses or family members.  “It’s a 36 hour day that we really need 72 hours for,” related one woman, in an attempt to describe the work and worry that surrounds her in the care of her failing, demented husband.  Hundreds of caregivers in Hampton Roads bear heartbreaking burdens like this for years, without enough community support and very few organized programs.

Two items came across my desk this morning, a video showing a non-responsive, agitated man with dementia in assisted living discover a seemingly miraculous, engaged, happier existence through music, and a news item  about the rise in the rate of dementia deaths (a topic that airs with increasingly regularity).

Health Alert: Death Rates from Alzheimer’s Disease Increasing in the US.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), death rates from Alzheimer’s disease increased 55% between 1999 and 2014. In a first-of-its-kind study, CDC researchers analyzed death certificate data from the National Vital Statistics System and identified these possible reasons for the increase in Alzheimer’s related deaths: the growing population of seniors in the United States (US), improved diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease at earlier stages; increased reporting by doctors and others who record the cause of death; and fewer deaths from other causes of deaths for the elderly.  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 2017

There is no cure for dementia and medicines have limited benefit.  Stimulating, meaningful, social and creative programming is a potential antidote for boredom, frustration, depression and isolation.  It is worth a try.  It is much better than not trying.

Our arts presentation to caregivers is here.  This links to a new, eight-page brochure on how to create meaningful music sessions.  Tip:  Harmonica playing and singing top the list of my favorite health-giving activities.  Go out and get two harmonicas, in any key (but the same key), start breathing in and out through it and enjoy a new, health-giving pastime.

Here are two more meaningful activities with the potential to engage more community members in meaningful service to others through the arts:

#1 Inter-Gen Art-Making   Imagine a world where young people of all ages regularly engage in art-making (think every kind of music and art) with elders in dependent care programs.  An arts facilitator would be involved, volunteers, too, so that both children and elders are supported in their art-making journey.

  • how would this impact the young person’s life?  How often has that child been close with an octogenarian, for instance?
    • would that mean that young doctors might be more likely to choose a field like gerontology?
    • would it mean that more young people might decide to work in other fields that support quality of life for elders?

Now think about the impacts on the dependent care programs, where staff turnover currently averages 40% – an enormous burden for any company to tackle, resulting in higher healthcare costs and a strain on the quality of patient care.

  • Staff get a reprieve and are able to enjoy seeing their elders in a new light, as these individuals interact with one another and the children 
  • Staff morale improves; they are happier knowing their elders are more fulfilled
  • They feel supported in their work role; they acquire new skills and resources

#2  Community Based Programs

Tidewater Arts Outreach is presenting programs with the City of Chesapeake’s Parks and Rec’s 55 and Better Program, and through the Virginia Beach Community Development Corp., to people in the community who are elderly, disabled or have other special needs or circumstances (at-risk kids). Our vision is to add more arts programs for elders in  the community.  We’d use community centers, libraries, and churches, and hope to help build supportive programs  wherever support is needed.  We could both initiate and support the efforts by of others by serving as a content resource, providing training in arts program delivery and/or coordinating series, workshops and events.  

This opportunity is worthy of attention and support, for the benefit of everyone.  Time is of the essence.  If we don’t act, who will?  Please support this important work and help influence positive change, by making a donation, telling a friend, attending a program or helping us as a volunteer.  It’s going to take a village.  Thank you.