Mar 31, 2014

A Merry Heart Doeth Good, Like a Medicine: Psalm 17:22

It surprised us how much laughter there can be when working with people who are living with dementia.

Tom and Karen Brenner
Alzheimer's Reading Room

One day, while we were working in the infirmary, the staff brought over a group of people that would join us in a poetry reading. Sunlight pooled on the table as we handed around some poems we had copied in large print.

The Swing

Our idea was that each person would read one of these short poems aloud, and perhaps this exercise would prompt the group to begin to have a conversation and to reminisce.

Tom and Karen Brenner are Montessori Gerontologists, researchers, consultants, trainers and writers dedicated to working for culture change in the field of aging. They are the authors of  You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello: The Montessori Method for Positive Dementia Care. Learn more about Tom and Karen at Brenner Pathways
Grace was wheeled up to the table in her wheelchair. She had lost the sight in one eye and the use of one hand from a recent stroke, and we were surprised that the nurses brought her to our table.

Grace was slumped over in her chair, with an eye patch on one eye and one hand curled up in her lap. The nurse explained that they thought Grace would enjoy listening to the poems, even though she couldn’t read.

Just then, Grace held out her good hand. We hesitated for a moment. Could she even hold the folder with the poems, or turn the pages, or read with just one eye? We handed Grace the poems.

We started the poetry reading circle.

The participants in our group were reading the poems with some difficulty, some hesitancy, but as we moved around the table, giving everyone a turn, we were pleased to find that everyone so far could read.

Some of the poems were funny and we heard a little chuckle coming from Grace’s direction. Was she laughing?

When it was Grace’s turn to read aloud, we waited, holding our breath. Then there came this little, creaking voice, reading one of the humorous poems and stopping now and then to chuckle.

A hush fell over the room and even the housekeeper stopped mopping the floor and leaned on her mop as we all listened with amazement to Grace reading her poem and laughing out loud.

That was the moment we learned that we should never count anyone out. When Grace finished reading, she looked around the table with her one good eye and said,
“Now that was funny!”

It surprised us how much laughter there can be working with people who have dementia.

It’s not that we are laughing at them, of course, but rather that somehow there can be this wonderful sense of humor still alive, even through the ravages of memory loss and failing health.

Living with this condition, it is amazing that people can still get the joke, still find the funny things in life, and still laugh out loud. Through the laughter, there still remains the reality that a person living with dementia exists in a world that can be frightening, frustrating and lonely.

Imagine if someone came up to you every five minutes or so, waved a magic wand, and poof, the last five minutes of your life just disappeared from your memory.

Now, imagine that this happens to you all the time, every day.

People with dementia may be able to remember events from long ago, but not remember a conversation they just had with you ten minutes ago.

Because people with dementia cannot change their circumstances, we must learn to adjust to their world.

We must meet them where they are at this moment in time.

Advice and Insight into Alzheimer's and Dementia

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room

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