What Individuals with Dementia Say About Their Brains

Lone Coyote in Cornfield - Photography by Kareen King

Lone Coyote in Cornfield - Photography by Kareen King

It’s my intention to bridge the gap between loneliness and friendship through creative engagement gatherings. For example, I once used The Wizard of Oz’s Scarecrow character as a creative conversation-starter. The above image, by the way, makes me think of the Scarecrow in the cornfield. Amazingly, no matter how advanced the person’s dementia, each individual had a quick response to my invitation to say something about their brain. I have constructed the following poem out of their comments:

My Brain
My brain
Doesn’t have both oars
Got rusty
Is too small
Is slow
Is pretty good, but slower now that I’m older
Is soft
Is non-existent

My brain
Is not that whippy
Is retired
Is on vacation
Works overtime
Is blank
Is still working good
Is dancing

My brain
Is still going
Is smart
Is powerful
Does a pretty good job
Is tired
Is not too great
Is revved up and doesn’t know where to go
Is full of information
Is thoughtless
Has kept me going for 88 years

My brain
Is full of joy
Escapes me when I want to think of something special
Is sometimes very good
Is always busy
Has good memory for my age – 95 ½
Is stuck on the wind and gone
Is weary
Is sometimes pretty dormant
Still works

Speaking of brain, I spend time each week with a small group of individuals with advanced dementia symptoms. They are not able to carry on verbal conversations with me, other than short phrases. So, my means of connecting with them are through music, photography, eye contact, touch, and saying their names. I was once introduced to a resident who was in the process of moving in to her new “home.” Her two daughters stood behind her.

Within minutes, the staff ushered her to a chair next to a darling 95-year-old woman whose enthusiastic response to our time together is incredibly endearing. I opened our gathering with “Mairzy Doats,” a nonsensical song from their era and which has become our opening ritual. The new resident immediately sang with fluency, clapping her hands and clasping the hands of the lady seated next to her as they swayed to the rhythm. I was moved to tears when I saw the two daughters weep together in the background as they observed their mother’s “awakening.” The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as I imagined much of their anxiety surrounding the letting go of their mother to the hands of others, dissipated in the 30 minutes we shared together. It was hard to maintain my composure as I imagined what it would be like to be in a similar position with my mother and sisters.

Oliver Sacks, best-selling author and neurologist, wrote that “it is the inner life of music which can still make contact with their inner lives which can awaken the hidden, seemingly extinguished soul; and evoke a wholly personal response of memory, associations, feelings, images, a return of thought and sensibility, an answering identity.” Genuine love and caring makes it even richer.

In the meantime, for a great resource on how to generate brain-engaging moments, I recommend my book, “Engage! 28 Creative Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults,” available by clicking: http://seniortheatre.com/product/engage-28-creative-enrichment-experiences-older-adults/ 

I also do creative engagement workshops and present keynote concerts that move, touch, and inspire individuals who serve older adult populations to connect with more empathy and creativity. For more information, contact me by email. I would love to connect with you!

 “I’m lucky because up till now my brain has kept me on an even keel. I don’t go to the edge of cliffs or swim in the deep sea,” – an 82-year-old Irishman

How to Connect With a Difficult Individual

A frail man, he wore thick rimmed glasses and had uncharacteristically dark hair for his old age. I would often find him seated in the same spot in his trademark position – right elbow propped on the dining room table holding his face upright while cupping his right hand over his forehead, with worrisome expression.

Even his peers could reanimate his caricature when referring to him. That’s about all we knew of him besides being nearly blind and keeping to himself most of the time.

Other than a couple of bus outings, “Frank” rarely participated in any group experiences. I was intrigued. What made this man tick? Who was he?

“Frank,” I ventured, “What kinds of hobbies did you enjoy before you moved into the nursing home?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

I continued on with a series of personal questions which were always answered in ambiguities.

“What has been the most exciting adventure in your life?” I probed.

“One time I went to Alaska.”

Surprised at this revelation, I thought I’d finally discovered a topic that would enliven him. Getting specifics about the highlight of his life, however, was quite challenging.

 “Did you enjoy it?”

“It was alright.”

“Alright,” was the adjective Frank used to describe everything. Otherwise the world, through his eyes, was rather dismal.

Nonetheless, I made it a point to join him at the dining room table for lunch whenever possible.

The conversation played out typically as follows.

“How are you, Frank?”

“Alright,” he’d respond, still looking downward as he rubbed his forehead.

“Does your head hurt?”

 Does your head hurt? Was that my all my brilliant mind could come up with? No wonder the poor guy’s facial expression never changed when he was around me. I was breaking the eleventh commandment – “Thou shalt not bore us.”

“No,” he replied, “I’m having a hard time breathing.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I sure hope you feel better.”

In those moments I couldn’t tell if I was more bored with him or myself. My adventurous spirit kicked into neutral whenever I was with Frank. Finding subject matter to discuss with him was like trying to locate a penny in a cornfield.  We’d merged together as petrified marshmallow and stale graham cracker, making the perfect s’more, only with an “n” for the “m.”

What if I had started our conversations with yes-no questions such as:  Have you had any interesting dreams lately? Do you like sauerkraut? Do you think there are aliens on Mars? Do you like our president? Have you ever flunked a subject? Do you like licorice? Do you wanna play truth or dare? Can you speak a foreign language? Can you smile for me even if you don’t feel like it? Do you want a hug? Are you bored right now? Do you wish I would go away?

Last week, I sat with him again at lunch. The conversation went along as usual. However, this time I noticed a slight shift in his demeanor.

“Well, Frank,” I started as I stood up from my chair to venture on simply out of utter mental paralysis, “I just wanted to stop by and say hello and see how you’re doing.”

As I moved away from Frank’s table, he turned his head in my direction.

“Thanks,” he said with a hint of enthusiasm and an increase in volume.

Though this sincere exchange of camaraderie would have been non-apparent to anyone else, it was monumental to me.  We had finally connected. It was the highlight of my day. Little did I know, it was to be our last conversation.

The next week a man entered the building asking for Frank’s whereabouts. I had just gotten word that Frank had passed. Assuming he was a family member or close friend, I didn’t know how to break the news.

“I’m the funeral guy,” he explained.

This man had come for the body.

Funny, I’d hoped he’d come to see Frank.

What if I had just shared my photography with him?

The Paper Clip Experience

I just returned from presenting three sessions for the LEADER Summit in Marksville, LA. One of the presentations was entitled "Let's Get Unreal! How to Plan and Facilitate a Creatively Engaging Group Experience for Older Adults."

I promised the constituents I would provide the lesson plan for "The Paper Clip Experience" which we experienced together at the Summit, and which I field-tested with two groups of older adults last week. The following lesson plan is an example of the type of "Experiences" I've included in my book, "Engage! 28 Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults" (ArtAge Pub.). To purchase a copy, click here.

The Paper Clip Experience

By Kareen King

When to Use: March, April, September, October and November


-          A box or container filled with a variety of paper clips


As a prop, bring a box or container filled with a variety of paper clips and hold it in front of the participants. Ask them to guess what’s inside. Shake it. Then ask them to fill in the blank in the following quote by U.S. Baseball Executive Bill Veek: “Baseball is the only thing beside the ______________ (paper clip) that hasn’t changed.”

Background information:

A paper clip is a device made of bent wire or plastic used to hold several sheets of paper together by means of pressure. Paper clips, which are called “binders” in Norway, were worn on the lapels of Norwegians as a symbol of resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II. Notable dates:

-          National Paperclip Day, according to internet algorithms,  is observed on May 29. http://www.nationaldaycalendar.com/days-2/national-paperclip-day-may-29/

-          The first patent for a bent wire clip was awarded in the United States to Samuel B. Fay on April 23, 1867.

-          The “Gem” (Swedish for “paper clip”) which is the most common type of wire paper clip, was introduced to the United States on March 1, 1892.

-          The modern paper clip was patented to William D. Middlebrook of Waterbury Connecticut on November 9, 1899.

-          The machine for making wire paper clips was patented on November 27, 1899 (Source: https://www.google.com/patents/US636272).

-          Johan Vaaler, the Norwegian inventor who was erroneously credited with the invention of the common “gem” paper clip, was born on March 15, 1866 (died on March 14, 1910).

-          Joe Fab, the award-winning and Emmy-nominated producer, writer and director who produced, wrote, and co-directed the feature documentary Paper Clips, was born on October 4, 1951.

-          Paper Clips, the documentary film about the Paper Clips Project, was released on September 8, 2004.

Activity: Human Paper Clip Sculptures Improv

Invite a group of volunteer performers to act as human paper clips. Instruct them to move among one another improvisationally until they link their bodies together in a creative prose.  Yell “Freeze!” Have them repeat this activity several times, each time with a new way of linking, then posing. At the conclusion, ask the participants to describe what they saw. Acknowledge answers verbally and on a dry erase board for visual learners. Then ask what each pose had in common, the answer of course being they were linked or bound together. Then have them rove about the participants to make brief connections via linking arms, fingers, ankles, etc. as they move from person to person until everyone has experienced a connection.

Activity: Paper Clip Sculptures

Distribute one paper clip to each person. Instruct them to fiddle with the clips during the Experience. Later, check to see how the paper clips have been reconfigured. Some research suggests that how you reshape your paper clip reveals something about your psychological profile or personality traits.

Activity: Paper Clips Project

The Paper Clips Project was an endeavor to answer a middle school student’s question regarding the Holocaust, “What does six million look like?” This led to a commitment to honor every person exterminated by the Nazis. The end result was a memorial railcar filled with not just six million, but eleven million paper clips which represented the six million Jews and five million gypsies, homosexuals, and other victims of the Holocaust. The railcar was placed in the Tennessee schoolyard as a reminder of the difference that can be made by educators and their students. For more information, visit www.oneclipatatime.org. Ask the participants to think of other individuals or creatures that might be honored by collecting paper clips. Consider starting a “project” of your own to honor the humanity of those otherwise overlooked.

Activity: The Paper Clips Link Game

The Norwegian Resistance Movement which began as a means to resist Nazi Germany’s occupation of Norway included an outbreak of civil disobedience in 1940, when students of Oslo University wore paper clips on their lapels as a symbol of solidarity and unity. At the time, the wearing of paper clips as a symbol of being bound together was illegal and could lead to arrest and punishment. Most recently, Americans have attached safety pins to their lapels, shirts and dresses to show their support to those including minorities, immigrants, women, and members of the L.G.B.T. community who are vulnerable to emotional abuse. Ask the participants what they think the word “solidarity” means. Solidarity is defined as “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” Polarity is defined as diametrical opposition. Ask what would happen if we aimed to find what we have in common with one another rather than focus on what keeps us apart? Then lead the group in a game of The Paper Clips Link.  Instructions are as follows: With your container of paperclips in hand, make statements of unity or agreement of feeling or action that may spark a common interest or mutual support within the group. For example, “The paper clips link for everyone who has eaten breakfast today.” Ask for a show of hands for those in agreement. If even one person raises his hand, link two paperclips together. Continue until you have a long chain of paper clips. Say that the chain represents what we have in common, or what binds us together. The following is a list of possible topics: Favorite foods, favorite colors, loneliness, happiness, fear, excitement, disappointment, beauty, friendship, hunger, love, loss, family, justice, heroes, patriotism, work, youth, age, etc.

Activity: Aesop’s Fable: The Father and His Sons

With the help of some playful volunteers, act out the following story.

·         Once there was a father whose sons were always fighting with one other. (Players improv quarreling)

·         With each fight, the father commanded them to stop, but they ignored him. (Players demonstrate various ways in which the father fails to break up the sons’ fights)

·         Grieved, he decided to teach them a lesson about the power of unity. So, one day, he ordered they gather a pile of sticks, each stick about the thickness of a pencil. (Players pantomime gathering sticks)

·         When they returned with their sticks, the father then asked them to each choose one stick from the pile. (Players pantomime gathering one stick each)

·         One by one, he asked each son to break his single stick. (Each player takes a turn easily breaking his “stick”)

·         Finally, one of the sons laughed and said, “Father, this is ridiculous! Why are you making us do this? Obviously we have the strength to break these puny sticks!”
The father smiled and replied, "Just you wait and see."
He then ordered the first son to take the remaining sticks and tie them into a bundle. (Players demonstrate)

·         “Now try to break the sticks," the father commanded. (Players pantomime repeated efforts to break the bundle of sticks, yet without success)
At last the father explained his reasoning saying, "You boys are like these sticks. If you cooperate and stand united, no one will be able to break you. If, on the other hand, you fight and argue with one another and act on your own, it will be easy for your enemies to break you. Please take this lesson to heart and stick together."

·         The moral of the story: Strength comes from unity.

Activity: Paper Clip Haiku

Create a haiku about the paper clip. A haiku consists of three lines, the first and third lines have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. For example:

Paper Clip

By Kareen King

One lone paper clip

Resistance and connection

Symbolizes much

Activity: Red Rover Wishes

Ask for a show of hands for those who remember playing Red Rover as children. It is game played between two lines of at least five players each who are positioned approximately thirty feet apart. The first team calls a player out by saying or singing, “Red rover, red rover, send ________ right over.” The person called then runs to the other line and tries to break the first team’s chain which is formed by the linking of hands. If the player fails to break the chain, he must join that team. If he breaks through the chain, however, he may select either of the two broken “links” and take one of them to join his team. This continues until only one player is left on a team. He must also try and break through a link in the opposing team. If he doesn’t succeed, the opposing team wins. Otherwise, he is able to get a player back for his team.

As a variation to this game, say that we’re going to make this a well-wishing game. For example, say that you’re going to wish something good upon a participant by saying something like, “Red rover, red rover, send candy right over.” They in turn make a wish for another participant such as, “Red rover, red rover, send giggles right over.” Do this until everyone has received a wish.

Activity: Song Fest

-          I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing by Billy Davis

-          Put Your Hand in the Hand by Gene MacLellan

-          We Shall Overcome originally by Charles Albert Tindley

-          Bind Us Together by Bob Gilman

-          Love Will Keep Us Together by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

Closer: Link Arms

To link arms is to put the bend of your arm into the bend of another person’s arm. The linking of arms was demonstrated by the Seahawks during the National Anthem at a game in September, 2016. It was their way to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick’s controversial preseason protest against racial injustices in the U.S. “We are a team comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds, and as a team we have decided to stand and interlock arms in unity.” -  Doug Baldwin, Seattle Wide Receiver

Invite the participants to close by linking arms. Then have them repeat after you, “We are like paper clips – bendable and linkable. Let’s link together!”

Note: For those who lead devotionals for older adults, the following scriptures relate to the "binding" theme of paper clips:

Paper Clips Devotional

Colossians 3:12-17: “ 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Ephesians 4:1-2 “2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.



The Power of Improvisational Play as Positive Shift

I recently engaged in conversation with a leader who makes every effort to incorporate storytelling in his communications with his “tribe.” This led to a discussion on what makes a story. It’s about the shift. Any time a shift, otherwise known as an inciting incident, occurs in someone’s “normal,” it changes everything from that point on. Or, at least it has the potential to.

 And then I started thinking about when shifts occur and what comprises all things “shift.” First of all, a shift is a change of direction or attitude. In the context of story, this might be a bit of bad or good news, or a catastrophic event. At that point, everything changes, for good or for bad. New decisions must be made, new actions must be taken. And eventually those decisions and actions lead to a new “normal.”

 So, how does this apply in the world of elder care and creative engagement? I’ve discovered an incremental shift of attitude over the past few months as a result of a curriculum I’ve been developing in a class implemented by my boss. The class is designed to free up staff by means of improvisational exercises and assignments over a 12-week period. The ultimate goal is that staff will creatively engage with residents more often, more intentionally, and more meaningfully – both spontaneously and during planned activities. The shift that has occurred is an improvement in camaraderie among both staff and residents as well as an overall improvement in positive energy and purpose.

Let me explain. Each week I facilitate a large group creative engagement experience based around a specific topic under the guise of “Kareen’s Kettle.” Instead of me being the sole facilitator of the experience, I now recruit staff to lend themselves for about ten minutes during the hour to do the unexpected. Usually two or three of them will collaborate as to the arrival time that best suits their schedule. If I have time, I’ll give them a few instructions ahead of time. Otherwise, they know that they are to follow the rules of improv which include accepting and assuming the imaginary role I toss at them, taking risks and not censoring themselves, and not blocking. The key words are, “Yes and!” Then, when I begin the “Kettle,” I give the residents a little teaser saying something like, “At some point during our hour, the “Who Knows Who’s” will show up to do “Who Knows What?” The residents know this means that two or three staff will show up to do improvisational dancing, singing, or role-playing. And they smile, because they know it’ll be fun. And my coworkers have fun. And we all talk about it later, so the residual effects endure long after the Kettle is over.

These ten-minute “adventures” serve as shifts. Though the residents may already be engaged with what I’m facilitating, these spontaneous and improvisational exercises redirect their attention and often produce laughter and smiles and a heightened overall experience. In essence, the shift that improvisational play creates is positive redirection, endorphin release, momentary pain reduction, camaraderie, and a sense of love and belonging to replace loneliness or the blues.

So, here’s a little example for you to try when you’re all by yourself driving. Smile for no reason, and keep smiling for about one minute. Then see for yourself if you experienced a slight shift in your attitude.

If interested in a plethora of field-tested improvisational play ideas for elders, click: Engage! 28 Creative Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults (ArtAge Pub.).

How Bette Midler Helped Elders Launch Their Imagination

There is nothing more elating than facilitating the unleashing of imagination in the world of elders. As a play on Bette Midler's first name, I challenged a large group of elders to turn on their imaginations and complete the following sentence, "I bet you can . . ." Not everyone found this an easy task. Some of the participants, because of cognitive challenges or simply having lost the art of imagination, needed a little help. In those instances, when they said, "I don't know," I replied something like, "That's right. So-and-So is far too humble to admit it to the rest of us. So, why don't you (said coworker) tell the rest of us exactly what you know this person is capable of!" And, voila! The beauty of improv ushers forth a spirit of play. The result? Lots of laughter and camaraderie.

I "Bette" You Can - Photo by Kareen King

I "Bette" You Can - Photo by Kareen King

How to Start a Conversation about Mortality

“How old will I be when I die?” I once asked a Quija board that my parents had stored in the basement when I was in junior high. This followed by, “How will I die?”

I watched my fingers involuntarily shift a pointer amongst the numbers and letters on the board until I got my answer. The answer, though disturbing, didn’t faze me much because the end seemed an eternity away. I was to die of brain damage at the age of 53.

A few years later, when I placed my trust in the Creator instead of the Quija board, I “renounced” my former “supernatural” activities which included Kresgin’s ESP, following my daily Horoscope, playing “Light as a Feather” during grade school sleepovers, telling ghost stories, and participating in child-invented séances. So far, so good.

Though I repented of my “evil” doings, the Quija board number that supposedly marked the end of my mortality remained a tiny voice in my head. As ridiculous as it sounds, I wasn't totally at peace until the clock struck midnight, and I entered year 54 of my life.. Be that as it may, I have no interest in seeing the movie, Quija: Origin of Evil, even though Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 84% which is rare for a horror movie.

In the meantime, I think there is value in “living like you were dying,” as Tim McGraw’s song suggests. Love deeper, speak sweeter, forgive, become the friend a friend would like to have, read the “Good Book,” go sky-diving and Rocky-Mountain climbing, etc., etc.  But many people don’t think that way until they face their mortality. And some never think that way.

I recall a moment while assisting at meal-time in a long-term care community.  I noticed a teary-eyed woman seated at a table with three friends. I sat down beside her and asked what was wrong.

“Everything,” she replied.

“Do you not feel well? Are you lonely?” I probed, putting my arm around her.

“I’m always lonely,” she cried.

I then noticed the loving efforts made by her three table-mates to console and cheer her. I began asking her about her life.

“I remember everything,” she declared.

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” I probed.

“None of it will ever happen again,” she lamented.

In an effort to provide a more helpful framework for her to review her life, I informed her about Dr. Seuss’s wisdom, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” I suggested she think of her mind as a sanctuary, reliving the memories with gratitude. It seemed logical to me that one could draw comfort from drawing from such a well of beauty and meaning whenever one saw fit.

“You’re preparing me for death,” she chided, resisting my efforts to coach her through this important chapter in her process of life resolution.

Though I hadn’t thought of it that way initially, she was right. I was preparing her for death, albeit an exercise in futility. I am learning much by watching others face or avoid their mortality. Perhaps she felt I was patronizing her in my efforts to encourage her. She is one of multitudes who struggle toward mastering what developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson calls the Ego Integrity vs. Integrity “Wisdom” stage of older adulthood.

Gerontocrats are those who face aging with grace, who make peace with the past, who continue to be grateful for what they have and to embrace life. They have ego integrity. Gerontophobes are those who dread and despise the aging process and fear facing the end of life. Their lives are filled with more regret than gratitude. When they don’t resolve the past, they live with despair.

My oldest daughter Joanna once shared with her family and closest friends, a memoir of her college years in Oregon. Though only 23 at the time, she had the emotional tools to deal with loss. She worked through resolution in short order as she chose the difficult task of saying good-bye to her Kansas family and friends before she moved to Germany to be with the love of her life.

“It is all beginning to hit me – that my life is no longer as I once knew it and that I can never go back to the past and relive anything. It’s moments like tonight that remind me that I need to sort out all that has happened in this time and to feel it all,” were the poignant words my daughter poured out in the height of her emotions.

So, how do we open the door of conversation with our elders about this elephant in the room called mortality? My boss recently blurted out the following question to me and a former colleague: “If the good Lord were to call you home today, would you be ready?” Though it appeared out of nowhere, it led to a very helpful conversation, as I had been struggling with a disturbing dream about the afterlife that I hadn’t yet worked through.

That question was recently used in an assignment with some of my coworkers who work at the two retirement communities I serve. One of my coworkers felt the assignment slightly awkward, wondering if it might be more natural for the opportunity to just present itself as what happened with me and the weeping woman. I share her sentiment, but I also discovered that I welcomed the question, random as it was when handed to me by my boss. We never know who is waiting for us to make the first move in starting what might otherwise be an uncomfortable topic to tackle.

And why not? Our mortality is one thing we all have in common.

So, how do we start a conversation about our mortality? Start from a place of love, take the plunge, and let the chips fall where they may. Though your words may get all scrambled up, love will take care of the rest.

When Hugs are Divine

I sat with a group of ladies at lunch. One, unable to converse, with the wave of her hand, left the table early. While eating, I couldn't help but wonder if her sad eyes were on the verge of tears.

Determined to follow-up, I walked to her room, knocked on the door, and gently let myself in. She was seated in a chair with one leg propped.

ME: Is it o.k. if I come in?

SHE: Yes.

ME: I just felt like I needed to give you a hug.

I walked toward her, reached out my hands, leaned in, and gave her a good, long hug.

SHE: The Lord works all things together for good. Thank you. Can you stay for a while?

ME: Of course.

I sat down on the couch across from her.

SHE: Go look at the picture on my cupboard.

I got up, walked toward her kitchen, and found a little Family Circus cartoon on her kitchen cupboard that read, “Sometimes when you hurt inside, no medicine can fix it. Only a hug can.”

SHE: How did you KNOW?

ME: I guess I just felt a little nudge inside that you needed a hug.

We visited for awhile about her current physical challenges and limitations, her achievements and losses in life, her determination to look at the positives, and her decision to accept the fact that, though she’s ready to be done with this earthly life, God is not yet finished with her.

Before leaving, I gave her one more hug. She gave me a loving and gentle admonishment.

SHE: Be open. Don’t say you don’t have time. Make time.

Divine Hug - Photo by Kareen King

Reporting on MidAmerica Institute on Aging

Playing catch-up after a crazy busy summer. Right on the heels of the Pioneer Network Conference was The MidAmerica Institute on Aging and Wellness where I presented two creative engagement sessions as well as “Finding Emilou” as the endnote concert for David Troxel’s Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care pre-conference. I met a lot of amazing people at the conference, several which are pictured above (David Troxel of The Best Friends Approach, my Emilou puppet and me, and conference committee and/or staff members involved with MAIA including Katie Ehlman, Mary Ann Allen, and two other lovely individuals whose names I've forgotten - apologies!)

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference which featured keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Gregor, author of “How Not to Die.” He explained how nutrition and life-style interventions, specifically emphasizing a plant-based diet, can sometimes trump pharmaceuticals. I’ve been eating a lot more salads since returning home, by the way, thanks in particular to another wonderful presenter, Robin Mallery of Heart Matters. I later discovered her chocolate mindfulness Ted Talk which I highly recommend, this coming from a person who tends to inhale food. Thanks to her, I’m savoring my food and losing weight at the same time!

I also enjoyed two playful sessions facilitated by Ginny Hunneke and Jennifer Maurer of The Fun Conspiracy, reminding me that adults (who laugh much less often on a daily basis than kindergartners) need more play in their lives!

And, of course, I enjoyed meeting David Broxel who shared his journey and practical approaches in treating people with dementia. I can tell he and I are of kindred spirit as we both agree that the best treatment is YOU and ME!

Oh, and I can’t forget to mention Greg O’Brien’s moving presentation on what it is to live with Alzheimer’s.

And finally, I must add that this conference is planned and hosted by the kindest, most considerate, and most hospitable individuals I have yet to experience in the world of conferences! I highly recommend this conference which happens annually in Evansville, Indiana.