We were first joined by Nancy Swanson, Board-Certified Music Therapist, and her colleague Beth Welch, Director of Resident Services at Chestnut Square at the Glen. Nancy and Beth gave us a chance to jot down what our typical schedule on a day off looks like and used our varying answers as a way of demonstrating the unique interests and preferences of all of our residents. Based on the vast differences in our answers, it was clear that we need to cater activities to the unique likes and dislikes of each of our residents. Nancy and Beth also pointed out that activities should address the five dimensions of well-being: physical, social, spiritual/emotional, occupational, and educational. As staff at long term care communities, we should ask ourselves if the activities we offer fall into one or more of these categories; if they don’t, we may need to go back to the drawing board. Participants in the seminar took turns sharing innovative activities they have implemented in their communities and it was a great opportunity for trading ideas and bouncing ideas off one another.
Next on the agenda was a talk from Thomas Sattler, Director of Education for Alliance Rehab and former conditioning coordinator for the Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Cubs. He and his associates, Steve Ferris, Physical Therapist, and Sandra Stoub, Director of Wellness Services at Alliance Rehab, shared important information regarding mobility, falls and physical health for seniors. We learned about several studies conducted which look at the relationship between walking and thinking. One study, conducted in Switzerland, looked at walking and multitasking and found that the more someone had to think about something (for example, counting backwards from 100) while walking, the slower they walked. Another study conducted in Sendai, Japan, found that gait slows as symptoms of dementia progress, concluding that there is a strong connection between our cognitive function and the use of our limbs. In summary, these studies show that changes in walking may be an early indicator of dementia.
We then had the pleasure of hearing from a panel of family members of those diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. They shared the ups and downs of dealing with an early onset diagnosis, how their lives changed and the valuable lessons they’ve learned along the way. There was a resounding theme of taking each day as it comes and continually adjusting to the “new normal.” The panelists noted that dementia is an illness for which there is no roadmap and there is very little control. They encouraged us to focus on the one thing we can control in the situation – our response. The discussion ended on a hopeful note – the panelists encouraged us to “let our humor shine” because laughter, even in the end stages of dementia, can play an invaluable role.
We were later joined by Reverend David McCurdy, professor of Religious Studies at Elmhurst College. Reverend McCurdy presented on ethics and dementia, a topic that left room for plenty of lively debate. Additionally, he discussed spirituality and dementia and how long term care communities can address a person’s spiritual needs throughout the stages of dementia.
Jim Vanden Bosch, Founder and Director of Terra Nova Films, stopped by to share meaningful insights on dementia through a variety of film clips. Terra Nova is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to sharing films that help us view the sometimes rocky terrain of life in our later years. The selection of film clips Jim shared with us ranged from funny and heartwarming to tragic and heart-wrenching. Jim said that people with dementia are “still capable of finding moments of joy” and that dementia is secondary to who a person is. “It’s just a piece of who they are,” he noted. These powerful sentiments really struck a chord with me, as well as the other attendees.
The wealth of knowledge these experts brought to part two of this conference was astounding. I am looking forward to bringing everything I’ve learned back to K-B, incorporating it into my practice, sharing it with fellow staff members and finding new ways for our community to continue providing excellent dementia care.
Submitted by Megan Schaaf, King-Bruwaert House Social Worker