As per customary routine, I went up and down the halls of the Assisted Living to invite the residents to Kareen’s Kettle. When I entered John’s room, he was watching the news while seated in a recliner, his body shifted far to the right and head leaning over the arm of the chair. Concerned, I asked, “Are you o.k.?”
He looked confused, mumbling that he was o.k. I soon realized he thought I wasn’t coming until the afternoon because of a glitch in the calendar.
“Are you sure you’re o.k?” I persisted.
“I don’t feel that good,” he replied.
I reported his condition to the nurse who said she’d check in on him. No sooner had I finished the conversation than I saw John headed with his walker straight to his regular seat in the large semi-circle of older adults where they faced a large picture of the brain I had drawn on the dry erase board.
I scanned the faces of my participants and quickly surmised an unusual lethargy in the space.
“O.k., ladies and gentlemen, on a scale of one to ten, ten being terrific, and one being terrible, what’s your number?”
With the exception of two people, numbers ranged from four to eight, with most being around a five. John was a zero.
Armed with this information, I mustered my best energy to guide them through our usual warm-up routine comprised of breathing and chair exercises, sung to their favorite tunes. Our topic of the day was the brain. And I was lucky that the charge nurse was willing to serve as an improvisational mind reader at a moment’s notice.
After reviewing the four lobes of the brain, I invited Linda to produce her magic. One by one, she moved from person to person with great gusto and humor, ruffling up the men’s hair as she came up with the perfect insight for each individual. By the end of the exercise, I had laughed so much, my face hurt. Linda had raised the energy level from zero to a hundred in just a few minutes.
The remainder of our time was spent discussing how our brain thinks, imagines, ponders, meditates, contemplates, wonders, deliberates, believes, reflects, and remembers. I told them the story of a resident named Tom who came to Brookside long ago with a traumatic brain injury which affected his personality. His song, “Yuk, Yuk, Yuk” is featured in my album, “The Person in the Picture Ain’t Me.” We discussed how Albert Einstein said that imagination is more important than intelligence. And I had the housekeeper, Lisa bring in a box for them to guess what was in it. Turns out it was empty, but it was a great catalyst for us to discuss what it is to think outside the box.
In the end, using the Glen Campbell song, “Gentle on my Mind” as a catalyst, I encouraged them to be gentle with themselves. After all, they all have a lot of memories and information stored inside their brains – it’s no wonder it’s difficult to retrieve everything. I also encouraged them to continue to come to the Kettle, as it’s a great place to stretch their imagination and learn new things – all great for brain health. Life is a series of adjustments to losses and disappointments, and coming together for creative enrichment is a great thing to do to strengthen the brain, and ultimately the spirit.
After our final song, “Happy Trails,” I went from person to person to shake their hands and thank them for coming. When I came to John, I asked, “So, you showed up with a zero. Did our experience raise you at least one notch?”
“Oh,” he shook his head with a huge grin, “It took it from a zero to a ten!”