Saturday, September 10, 2016

Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Book Review

Published 13 September 2016.
Living with dementia presents a host of challenges.

While there are a number of tips available for family members, the most transformative tips all come from this common ideal:

Show love and respect for people living with dementia while maintaining a meaningful connection.

Connecting in the Land of Dementiia: Creative Activities to Explore Together offers specific, practical suggestions for making this ideal a reality.

Author Deborah Shouse has an earlier book that shares the journey she and her mother took while finding ways to connect after her mother's diagnosis of dementia.

I've read more than two dozen books about family caregivers, and Shouse's is one of the most positive and hopeful paths through the caregiving partnership.

After reading Living in the Land of Dementia (2013), I was eager to see how she has extended her work in a second book.

[I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.]

In the intervening years, Shouse has met with a variety of people within the United States and beyond, all exploring creative ways to keep people with dementia engaged in meaningful relationships and activities. Her new book makes reference to many practitioners and researchers.

I had the opportunity to meet the author and her partner Ron when they did a performance art activity at a local library in south Central Kansas.  They are intelligent, creative, and caring people. Her book conveys these same virtues.

Connecting in the Land of Dementia contains some broad discussion about the dementia journey, but the bulk of the book is organized by specific media for creative engagement. For example, there are chapters on music, nature, storytelling and drama.   It's clear that Shouse has spent a lot of time reading about these techniques for creative engagement, observing them in action, and participating by employing them.

What kind of techniques are suggested?

In the chapter "Express Yourself through the Arts" a woman who had stopped painting eventually returned to the activity by first spending a lot of time observing others paint before taking very small steps to paint again.  "Gradually, she returned to the art she so loved"  (170).

Others might need to explore different media than a long favorite until they find the right fit for their new view on life. The important principle is to offer a variety of activities in a flexible and patient manner. Once the person with dementia finds something that engages them, the magic happens.

Another activity described in the book is Ann Basting's storytelling activity called Time Slips TM. People are presented a photograph and to write a story about the people, animals, objects and settings depicted in the photograph. While I volunteered at a multi-level care center in Wichita, Kansas, I supported the activity directors in leading a Time Slips activity once a week over several months for residents with a dementia diagnosis.

As many as 15 residents worked together to collaboratively write a story.  These residents who were all too often told "no" during regular, daily activities since they were forgetting how to conventionally sit, eat and dress. However, during this creative storytelling activity, these residsents were encouraged to use their imaginations.

During the Time Slips storytelling activity, I enjoyed seeing residents talk with greater depth and complexity than usual.  People received compliments on their ideas, and we all expressed amusement, insight, and wonder at the resulting stories.

For readers wanting more detail about any of the activities in the book, they can use the section on contributors and the references for further resources.  Also, Shouse repeatedly encourages readers to adapt these activities or to develop entirely new activities based on the spirit of the book.

While living with dementia can be challenging, I find that all too often material emphasize losses, hardships and challenges. 

It's refreshing to see an emphasis on opportunities.  If care partners change their expectations, they will discover positive aspects in the new behaviors and new perceptions held by those living with dementia.

In Connecting in the Land of Dementia, Shouse clearly illustrates how the "new normal" can include some powerful moments, filled with positive emotion and interesting insights into the human condition in general and the humanity of the person living with dementia and his or her care partner's humanity, too.

Related:

Love in the Land of Dementia: Book Review
Care Partner: An Emerging Term
The Long Hello: Book Review
Films Depicting Dementia
Books about Dementia

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