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One person caring about another represents lifes greatest value. Jim Rohn

This morning I stop and watch a clip on TV before I come to write my blog. The topic is dancing with dementia. The muscle memory remains and the music enables people to regain closeness when dementia is closing doors. The goal is to have fun, physical movement, closeness. It looks like it’s working on TV.

We need to build closeness into our relationships at every stage. Sharing activities, accomplishments, friends, relatives these are all strings that bind us close. Music connects us in a way that few things do. Old age homes should be filled with the music the residents grew up with and danced to in their active years. Are there any fun old age homes?

I haven’t been in many. The one I was in, visiting someone with my mother was hospital quiet. When my late aunt was in a home she said she had to get out or she would become just like the other residents.

I hear we have romances and dare I say it, “sex” going on in some of these places. Why wouldn’t we? People are still people at the end of their lives does it matter so much if people have a little fun and excitement in their life? No one is getting pregnant, there are no social issues coming out of having fun in a retirement home.

The belief that all we need to do for the elderly is keep them clean, fed and safely tucked away is destroying lives. I’m reading there is a better way and it is being implemented in Ontario, it is called the Butterfly program. The man responsible for this program is Dr. Sheard from Britain.

They start in one long term care home. The walls go from beige to bright retro colors chosen by Sonja Hidas curator and educator with the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives. The bright blocks of color help the residents with spatial problems navigate hallways that in beige look like endless confusing tunnels.

Sonia Hidas learns about the residents, where they come from, and interior designs that were popular in the decades when they were raising families or working. Brilliant colors are key because they are bright and happy. As children we enjoy bright and happy colors. When we become seniors colours come back to us. It’s part of being in the present moment and just enjoying what is.

What happens to a person is less significant than what happens within him. Louis l. Mann

People who are lonely and bored become frustrated and sometimes angry. The industry calls this “responsive behaviors,” saying it’s an outcome of dementia and other neurological problems. Sheard disagrees. He says it’s the result of frustration, loneliness and boredom, created by cold, clinical care.

A keyboard is brought in and one of the residents flips through song sheets, taking requests. The response to the music is that manic walkers no longer pace endlessly, everyone is calmer as the music taps into deep emotions. In the dining room cd’s are played.

A mini fridge is brought into the dining room. Residents are allowed to serve themselves any time of the day. Small pleasures bring back the humanity. There are other changes they want to make. They want to split the dementia unit into two. One side for residents still mobile. The Butterfly project realizes small homes are key. Most nursing homes are built to house 32 people per unit, an arbitrary number chosen years ago in the belief that bigger is better, particularly for operational efficiencies.

The staff has dropped the scrubs, street clothes are a requirement in the unit now.

Butterfly’s David Sheard says people with dementia can’t explain their emotions. Their emotions are best understood through metaphor. If the elderly woman is calling for her mother, what is she really seeking? It’s probably comfort, love or reassurance, so the Butterfly program says give that to her instead of the truth, “your mother’s dead.”

The staff has been trained in the old ways that dominate long-term care, focusing on systems and processes, not people. Butterfly relies on emotional intelligence, the ability to understand someone else’s feelings and respond with compassion.

The Butterfly project believes if you live in a sterile environment, it will kill your soul.

At the end of a year this care home passes the test and is recognized as a Butterfly home. It still has more changes to make but it has progressed a lot in treating the residents as people. It is now called by the person assessing it, a place of engagement and love.

The Peel council votes unanimously to keep funding the Butterfly project in this nursing home and to add it to a second facility. This Butterfly project has a financial cost but we have Politicians who would like to see the program adopted by the provincial government and expanded throughout all Ontario nursing homes.

This would be progress. Maybe we wouldn’t be so scared of ending up in one of these facilities if it seemed more like a home and less like an institution. We can’t stop the progress of age, disability and death. We can make it a little easier for those going through it. We can act like the people are still people. It is better for the people being cared for and the people doing the caring. Violence is a huge problem in people with dementia, caring for them like they are people seems to help.

We are moving in the right direction. We can put people ahead of profit. One small change at a time. We are learning to do better. We need to look at the positive changes being made. It is the goal of many people to bring positive change into the world. We need to acknowledge it when we see it. We need to be willing to embrace change. Things don’t have to be done the way they’ve always been done. We can make it better. We can fix the problems. We can start small.

There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver. Rosalyn Carter

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Songs You Know By Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care

Songs You Know By Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care

Feb 25, 2016

by Mary Sue Wilkinson and Teepa Snow
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