Holistic Memory Care
If there were a silver lining to living with memory loss, I would say that it’s one way to become a master of mindfulness. I find it refreshing to be around people who are “Naturally Present” (the name of the class which I presented for the 2016 SPARK! Conference), and I love practicing meditation and yoga with this population because we learn from each other.
With a bachelor of science in holistic wellness from the University of Integrated Science in California, I specialize in holistic wellness education, looking at spirituality, diet and lifestyle as important factors in memory care. I also teach and facilitate nature connection and creative expression therapies including music, movement, art, and writing.
From everything I have learned and witnessed in my education and work as a dementia care specialist, I do believe that memory loss is reversible. There are many scientific studies coming out now with evidence that this is true. All of the services that I offer support brain health and healing.
Drumming, Meditation, Chair Yoga, and Reiki
Drum therapy is widely used to treat brain injuries and impairment. Drumming improves cognitive functioning, increases the white matter of the brain, and slows the decline of brain disease just as effectively as exercise and yoga. As in any creative process, both hemispheres of the brain are activated and synchronized while drumming, which strengthens the communication pathways, preventing brain damage and memory loss. Drumming also increases the alpha waves of the brain. This increased alpha activity calms the mind into a meditative state, which can help alleviate the anxiety commonly experienced by people with memory loss. One woman told me that she loves drumming because when focused on the rhythm she temporarily forgets about her worries.
One great thing about drumming for people who are experiencing difficulty with speaking or forming sentences is that drumming is a fundamental form of nonverbal self-expression, an opportunity to be heard through the language of music. I have seen faces light up and attitudes transformed in a moment through drumming, and within several sessions I have seen people who initially refused to play the drum become the most enthusiastic participants in the circle.
I have witnessed profound shifts in levels of joy and self esteem through participation in music and yoga circles, as well as great improvement in coordination. According to recent studies, yoga improves memory, IQ scores, coordination, reaction time, and problem solving. Yoga, exercise, and any form of movement oxygenates the brain and increases the generation of new brain cells. Yoga and Reiki both balance and integrate the left and right hemispheres of the brain and rewire the brain and electrical system to create new pathways of communication and energy flow.
Through creative modifications I have ensured that yoga is accessible to everyone, so that everyone may benefit and become inspired to love yoga. One man in my class with Parkinson’s was in a wheelchair and couldn’t move his body at all, but he was able to practice simha mudra (lion pose) with his face, and turn his head from side to side for the windshield wiper mind-clearing kundalini yoga meditation. He also loved the violet flame and white light cleansing meditations which I guided him through.
Passion into Action
Passion into Action is a program which I invented to get to know people better and to reconnect them with their passions in life. Too often in old age people feel disconnected from the joys of their youth, and Passion into Action is a special month-long celebration of life which reminds one special person of who they are and what they love about life. This has been a very important and meaningful experience for the “Honorary Participant,” and is also a very enjoyable and special event for caregivers, friends, and family members to experience as well. After a series of creative question interviews, I write a book about the person’s life, with photos (including baby pictures!), love letters, and thank you notes contributed by family and friends. Special activities are created and planned to bring back their passions and favorite music, followed by an honoring ceremony/party and book reading. Each “Honorary Participant” receives a copy of their very own book with their name and featured photo on the front. Many of the participants have treasured their books and love to read about themselves over and over again, with all of the photos and love letters inside.
Passion into Action is a valuable service I offer which can improve relationships with caregivers and even bring families closer together as they get to know each other better and remember the good times. This is one of my favorite things I have done in my life, because I’ve seen the joy it has brought to many people. I have many thank you notes from family members, one family sent me a rose bush from New York!
Specialized Music Healing Sessions
Although I am not a board certified music therapist, I am experienced in providing meaningful, individualized music healing sessions. Through creative questions and conversations I discover favorite genres and songs, and learn how to play them on one of my many instruments.
One of my friends with dementia loved to sing. Her favorite song was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and she sang it all day long, while walking to the ladies’ room, while waiting for lunch to be served, in the middle of a conversation, etc. Sometimes when she became frustrated and angry about not knowing where her husband was, I asked her to come sit next to me at the piano, and as we sang her favorite songs together, time would cease to exist. All was well in her world as long as she was singing. I saved this bird she colored in one day while singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” because I love the colors she chose. I keep it in one of my journals for inspiration.
A Conversation Through Art: Another Form of Nonverbal Self-Expression
This is a photo from one of my favorite days working in memory care. I was caring for a man who was very worried about where his wife was, and while we waited for her to arrive, first I played the piano for him because he loves classical music, and as soon as he became restless again we went into another room and sat by a window with some pencils and paper. This man who used to be a banker on Wall Street was trying to tell me about that part of his life, but his words were all jumbled, so I asked him to draw it for me. This is what he came up with. I wrote down his words as we went along, and was able to piece together his story to get to know him better. Most importantly, he was able to express himself and feel heard.
One of Many Success Stories
One of my yoga students was paralyzed on one entire side of her body from a stroke, and she practiced yoga and healing meditation/visualization with me daily while in her wheelchair. After several months I noticed great improvement in her physical, mental, and emotional state as a result of her daily practice. From my perspective she became a lot more open to having fun and she didn’t get frustrated as easily as she did in the past. Per her request, I also offered her regular Reiki treatments. She told me that she always felt better after the Reiki and yoga, and she also loved the drum circles. With one hand she was able to shake a maraca, and she became more confident overall as an important part of the circle. Hymns were her favorite music to listen to, so when she was depressed sometimes I played hymns on the piano to encourage her. She would often sing along, and sometimes she would cry. One time we wrote a song together made up of our prayers. I was so happy that she felt safe to express the grief that she was feeling from losing her independence in so many ways. I understand that it can take years to heal that, and some things are never “healed.” What matters is that we all feel seen and heard and loved.