Saturday, January 29, 2011

Overcoming hate with love

We love when we listen. That's what I love about storytelling. We walk in each other's shoes. We try to understand what the other person is thinking. We may not agree on everything--but that's okay. When it seems like chaos reigns supreme in daily life, one of the things that every person can do is listen more and try to see the world from a new perspective.  We love IF we listen. We love as we listen. --Beth Sanders 

Monday, January 24, 2011

We love as we listen

Last Thursday I went to the home of a very special woman. As a personal historian in Ohio, it was my great privilege to be able to videotape this 94-year-old in her country home at the request of her grandson. There was a sparkle in her eye as she shared her story....the challenges of running a dairy farm, the joys of raising a family, her Christian faith that had helped her through many difficult days and years. It was my first time meeting her, but I felt instantly connected to her. She shared pages of her favorite scriptures--intentionally passing on her faith and values to her children and grandchildren. She was surrounded by family and I was there too, of course, and we all loved as we listened. She could feel our love and we could certainly feel her love. What an amazing experience for all. We love when we listen.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

MemoryBio - new reminiscence curriculum for Alzheimer's Disease

I saw a need when I came into skilled nursing communities or memory care units to provide a simple way for people to have a way of visiting with people who have memory loss or Alzheimer's Disease. MemoryBio provides one-on-one or small group activities involves sharing a picture or multiple pictures provided in the MemoryBio Photo Album. Then there are also pointed or yes/no questions that go along with the pictures. There are over 200 pictures in the book and now staff, family members, or volunteers (or even family caregivers could be using this) can look through the MemoryBio Photo Album and pick a photo that catches the person's eye and share memories together. Another great thing is that there is also a MemoryBio Journal because a key is thing is to actually RECORD what someone says or remembers (or maybe they just react to that picture with a smile--great!). The story can build little by little....and be recorded in the journal.

When someone with dementia cannot speak, these pictures are still something can provide visitors or caregivers with something to talk about. We can share our story and this keeps us from always talking about things like the weather, health, sports, or food (typical but boring topics). Because reminiscence has the power to lower depression and even increase happiness, we must try to do something that may connect and promote communication. There is nothing more meaningful than eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand communication. We believe that MemoryBio just builds a bridge and helps people get close and share and touch each other's lives. Alzheimer's seems like a modern-day plague--people are so scared of it. We must do something....and connection is key.

This program has worked well in conjunction with the Best Friends Approach.

Want more information? Click here for details on MemoryBio Photo Album and Journal. You are also welcome to call us at 1-866-543-3246 or email

Capturing life stories for someone with early-stage Alzheimer's disease

When someone has been dianosed with early stage Alzheimer's Disease, it is important to capture as many details of his or her life stories as possible, as quickly as possible. It may not seem like the details matter, but they do and they will. In fact, it will be critical to delivering the best possible service and care.

Because retrogenesis is believed to occur, your loved one may be, essentially, traveling back in time and seeing himself or herself as 50 or 40 or 20 or 10 years old. If you can know more about his or her life at these different ages, it will make communication and understanding easier. For example, if you know that Mildred's horse was named "Slippers" whe she was ten, it would probably make more sense when she reacts when you say, "Do you want your slippers?" . Knowing Mildred's long-time love of horses or her love of Zane Grey books as a child, it makes it so much easier to plan meaningful activities that will best meet her needs.  Another example would be Jim who was always a hiker throughout his life. Now confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak, it still would be thoughtful to ensure that Jim spent as much time outside as possible on trails or touching the outdoors (bring a tree branch inside, provide large rocks to touch, show pictures of trails he may have walked before).  Personalize daily life for this person. We all want things that are familiar and brings us comfort, right? Remember that food is a great source of comfort for someone with memory loss too. How can you work in ice cream, chocolate, or other favorite foods? It helps if you know this person's favorites...favorite foods, favorite book, favorite movie, favorite TV show, favorite things to do.

Another good reason to be reminiscing with someone who has been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's disease is because recalling, sharing, and even writing memories does stimulate the hippocampus region of the brain where memory is stored. Alternative treatments for Alzheimer's Disease would be spending time daily or weekly reminiscing and challenging the brain. The long-term memories typically remain this is something that someone with early-stage Alzheimer's Disease can do.

You may be looking for tools that could help in the writing of life stories for someone with dementia or memory loss. The Mayo Clinic is using the Life Story Journal with their early-stage Alzheimer's patients. Also, you may want to consider the MemoryBio Photo Album and Journal. Photos are a great way to bring back memories. It's wonderful when you as the family caregiver or professional caregiver can have the honor to ask these questions and take the time to write down the amazing adventures of this person's life. You may find that it lowers depression, increases life satisfaction, and promotes happiness. You might also think about using Story Cards (interesting questions for all ages to reminisce) or a Storyboard (display a few key pictures and memories on the board). Enjoy each other's company and each other's memories. The journey of life may still be an open book -- ready to be shared. Don't wait. These life stories should not be lost or forgotten. They could be critical to caregivers in providing the very best service and care. The more we know, the more we love.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Storytelling and Reminiscence Therapy for People with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia

People with memory problems can benefit greatly from reminiscence and life review processes. Unfortunately, too often memories are lost and forgotten before this critical information is captured. Professional caregivers and family caregivers are more and more interested in asking the right questions and recording the answers too--as this information could be essential in delivering long-term care. Knowing life stories will be critical for maintaining authentic, meaningful conversation and connection--especially if memories continue to fade. Essentially, we need to walk in someone's shoes and experience their past so that their can be greater understanding now and in the future. Actions, words, and emotions will make much more sense and be put into a better context when this person is deeply known by those around him or her.

The Mayo Clinic neurology department discovered how valuable the information could be. They adopted reminiscence programming (using LifeBio's Life Story Journal) because they see the importance of helping someone with early-stage Alzheimer's to record memories, but they also found that the process helped them celebrate their life experiences, see their accomplishments, connect with their family caregiver more, and record information that only this person can share. Because reminiscence promotes feelings of happiness and purposefulness, it is also a great activity for Alzheimer's patients.

Keep these tips in mind when recording the biographies of people with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia
1. The process of recording life stories and memories is very important. Preferably the writing and thinking about memories shouldn't be just a one-time event. Instead, the ideal situation is for the creation of a life story to be an ongoing process where the person is engaged in activities to stimulate memory and to continually build a strong relationship with one or more caregivers. Reminiscence is stimulating the hippocampus of the brain where memories are stored and also working the prefrontal cortex (executive function) so this is excellent cognitive fitness exercise. Keep in mind that the process of capturing the memories, assembling pictures, and discussion is as important as any finished product--it could become a  beautiful memory book for someone with Alzheimer's..   Remembering is also a fun thing to do for many older people.

2. The more we know, the more we love. People with memory loss are sometimes difficult to care for, but knowing someone's life story can help a professional caregiver or family caregiver see this person with new eyes. This incredible, unique person has led a rich and interesting life with people, times, and places to share. It's important to see them as a child, a youth, a worker, a parent, and a grandparent -- a holistic view of this person's life journey. Every day is still and gift and people with Alzheimer's give love to their caregivers and need to receive special care and love too--many do teach us and share wisdom even with the disease. There is always more caring and empathy when the whole person is understood. It can also help a caregiver understand behaviors that may occur with Alzheimer's--things sometimes tied to an event from the past or childhood.

3. Incorporate memories into daily care if possible. How can this person's home include many chances for reminiscence and more interaction today? Perhaps a memory journal can be an ongoing source for discussion as someone comes to visit whether in a private home or in a nursing home or assisted living setting. It works out well when there are pictures found to complement the memories and they are DISPLAYED as part of a loved one's care plan (although the person shouldn't be quizzed to remember people's names in the pictures). It doesn't help anyone if these memories are hidden in a book in a drawer somewhere. Make it easy for nurses, geriatric care managers, social workers, family members or other visitors to see and use the information gathered in daily conversation.

4. Storytelling is a give and take experience. A person with memory loss may reach a point where it is very hard to communicate. If we've accomplished the goal of recording stories and memories, caregivers can still be the ones sharing when memories fade. The movie, The Notebook, was an excellent example of how a caregiver could continue to connect, relate, and share the story again after her memories were lost. We are operating with one hand tied behind our backs if we don't know at least some of this person's distant memories of childhood and teen years. BUT if we don't know the individual's past experiences, then it is time to connect eye-to-eye, face-to-face, hand-to-hand and tell one of our own stories. Talk about a time your car or truck broke down, talk about your childhood friends and games you played, talk about your last vacation. Watch and see if this conversation connects. The door of communication should stay open...even if we're not sure how much the person is able to understand.

There are many good reasons to be reminiscing and recording memories for Alzheimer's patients. With the millions of people who are expected to be affected now and in the future, the time is now to begin capturing life stories without delay.
Beth Sanders is the author of the Life Story Journal and Memory Journal and the CEO of LifeBio serves over 50 long-term care communities, nursing homes, home care agencies, and hospitals by providing easy tools for capturing life stories.

Life Stories Work and Social Work

Social histories and life stories...
A typical social history is an interview process used by a social worker during an intake process, typically associated with medical services. It would detail where someone grew up, and who the immediate family is and how to contact them. It would talk about the person's educational background and their family and marital status. Work life would be a key part of a social history, and it may even include hobbies and interests. The social history may include any problems or concerns the person is facing....and look to the future to have the person describe their goals.

It's possible for a social history to also have very relevant data for a more complete life story. Life stories would certainly include biographical data, but also would go into greater depth to describe parents and grandparents, the childhood home, favorites as a child or teen, and the impact of some or many historical events on the person's life. As life stories progress, the details of jobs and careers, love and marriage, children and grandchildren are also described along with values, beliefs, and reflections on life lessons.

Social workers find reminiscence and life review work applies to their jobs in a real and meaningful way. It would be wise to consider expanding offerings to include reminiscence programming in health care environments because of the impact life stories have on all dimensions of wellness and in positive validation of someone's life experiences.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Life stories in geriatric care management and social work

There are various ways that reminiscence and life review work can be used in geriatric care management and social work. Life stories are an excellent way to build relationships with your clients. Here's how and why it works:

#1 - Open a door to new conversation. Really get to know the client in a deeper way. One of the core problems that faces older adults is that professional caregivers really don't know them...and their family members may not either. The clinical lists of questions hit the surface level or medical history information, but never come close to the core of this complex human being's life. The interview will be more valuable if it goes deeper to help you learn about the people who shaped this person, the historical events that had a profound impact, the childhood memories that bring comfort and joy, the accomplishments during adulthood, and the most important beliefs and values that drive decision making and choice. Older people are craving the opportunity to tell their life stories in many cases. You can open the door to new conversations that will help them see their whole life in a more meaningful way. Idea: Story Cards could help.

#2 - Impact health & wellness. Reminiscence touches ALL dimensions of wellness...especially the tougher emotional and spiritual dimensions. It is also an excellent brain fitness activity and it is used routinely with people with early-stage Alzheimer's, providing how to write an autobiography without delay.

#3 - Make a true friend. Use the stories and experiences to help build an authentic relationship. What if this person's memories of working with their parents in the cotton fields are more important right now than talking about how breakfast was or how their knee is feeling today? Because reminiscence has been found to promote happiness and purposefulness, it is important to be spending time just listening, asking questions, and enjoying the complexity and uniqueness of this amazing person that sits before you. What a privilege it is to be the one who listens and learns and cares. That's why you do the work you do.

#4 - Be a bridge builder. See your work as building a new bridge or repair a bridge between older generations and younger generations in the family. Sometimes families or other caregivers need to know more about the person to really understand and have empathy and truly love and care. The more we know, the more we love. Frankly, in your work as a geriatric care manager or geriatric social worker, you may know more about someone's own mother or grandmother's life story than an adult child does. As older people approach the end of their lives, let's hope for some "Ah ha" moments of "I never heard that story before!" or "Wow, grandma I didn't realize you lived through the Dust Bowl" or "Grandpa, you were really handsome when you played football back in high school." In other words, the family can start the see the WHOLE person, not just an old person. Perhaps you can encourage the family to spend some priceless moments together to write an autobiography or the biography of a loved one.
Idea: Life Story Journals could help.

Keep up the great work. It is hard work but worth it and much needed in a society where ageism is alive and well. Working together, we can change to see older people as an incredible resource and source of wisdom in our society. Keep connecting, listening to life stories, building relationships, and loving. That's all that really matters in the end....people are seeking more love.

Looking for a speaker on this topic? Needing more tools for reminiscence and life story recording? Call 1-866-543-3246 or email for details.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The rise of breadmaking again? Maybe are some tips.

Today I went to the grocery store and I was startled to see bread selling for $3.99 a loaf for the decent kind that has some substance to it. "What!" I thought. "I can buy a 5lb bag of flour on sale for $2 and make four loaves of bread for that same price...and I will know what's in it too!" And that's just what I did.

For those of us who are interested in natural and organic food, making bread makes sense (and saves cents too). So it took me about 20 minutes to make the dough and tonight we had delicious homemade bread for dinner. One more loaf is sitting on the counter and two loaves are in the freezer.  Now, for those of you who are new to breadmaking, I'd like to suggest a few tips on how to make bread....

1) Let the yeast sit for 10 minutes in warm water and a bit of sugar before you mix it into the dough. It will foam a bit and then you'll know it really is active.
2) Kneeding matters. If the recipe says to kneed the dough for 10 minutes, it means it. It is a great arm workout too I figure. You've got to get a soft, elastic feel to that dough and it's like it is transforming over time as you work it.
3) Be patient and leave it alone. Put it in a nice warm, quiet place where people aren't going to be stealing dough too much. Put waxed paper on top of the bowl and then maybe aluminum foil to keep everything in there and working its magic.
4) Make memories. Breadmaking is as old as time. It's been a family activity for thousands of years. Let the kids or grandkids or nieces and nephews enjoy this activity with you. Make pizzas with the dough, try pretzels, sticky buns, or crescent rolls. There's nothing like the look on the kids' faces when they taste the real deal--fresh, homemade bread. Enjoy!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Kitty is back

At 5 a.m. this morning, Kitty returned home. She had been gone for at least a week. Her official name is Dalmatian, but she really goes by Kitty most of the time. She is a beautiful cat and she is the love of my 14-year-old daughter's life. We've had her at the house since the day she was born. She is the cutest cat we've ever seen. Anyway, Kitty disappeared around Dec. 25th or 26th and we were concerned that we would never see her again. I've been consoling my daughter for days...telling her it was possible that Kitty would return. She has been gone for a week before, and she did return that time. But I was really worried about her and this morning I was praying hard for her return. Well, the Lord answered my prayer and I couldn't believe it when Kitty appeared at the sliding glass door. I gave that cat the biggest hug ever and I asked her where she had been...but she wouldn't tell me. I opened a gigantic can of tuna and let her eat the whole thing. My daughter will go to school today happy--knowing that Kitty has returned safely. Yeah!!!!