Tag Archive | end-of-life care

Dementia, Music, and Talking with God

fullsizeoutput_22a5
Last Thursday Mim and I took a day-trip to Lake Geneva for Rainbow Hospice Care’s 14th annual “End-of Life Conference.” The theme this year was “A Focus on Dementia.” The whole conference was excellent! This is what continuing education is like for people in our business – assisted living.

The morning keynote speaker was Teepa Snow who helped us understand the functional limitations of individuals in each of the seven stages of dementia. She taught us how we can be most helpful when we try to provide care for residents in these stages, as well as how to care for their family members. As Teepa’s speaking and actions evolved into the typical behavior of a person in each stage of dementia, a lightbulb went on in our minds. So that’s why… Now I understand… Behaviors of many past residents came to mind.

The closing keynote speaker was Jolene Brackey, the author of Creating Moments of Joy. Throughout the past 15 years that Mim and I have been doing assisted living in our home, we have given away many copies of her book. The majority of people we have cared for have had some degree of dementia, and this book provides practical examples of how to provide “moments of joy” for these individuals. We’ve made the book required reading for anyone who works with us, and we routinely give the book to the families of our residents with dementia.

fullsizeoutput_22a6Jolene Brackey didn’t disappoint us as a speaker. At the end of a long day of learning for all of us at the conference, she provided us moments of joy as she told us stories and gave us practical examples for sharing joy freely with our residents.

One of the afternoon Breakout Sessions that I found particularly interesting was “Music and Memory.” From my own experience, I’ve known that music still communicates with many people who have very advanced dementia. I used to play the piano monthly for a senior respite organization in a nearby town. One of their clients was a man in his 50s who had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He would sit in the group all day long without saying a word. But when it came time for the sing-along, he would join in and sing enthusiastically, remembering all the words of the golden oldies and hymns I played for them.

fullsizeoutput_22a8The “Music and Memory” Breakout Session was an update on the progress of a non-profit organization called “Music & Memory.” The vision of “Music & Memory” is to provide the means for caregiving organizations to give an iPod with a personalized playlist for each person in their care. The playlist includes the favorite songs of each individual, often the popular hits of their high school years. Research has shown that people, even in the advanced stages of dementia, exhibit signs of happiness when they are listening to their favorite music.

In this session, we were asked to pair up with another session participant to learn about their favorite music – something we would need to do with a resident or their family if we were to try to create a personalized playlist. My partner was a college student, whose favorite music type is heavy metal, and whose favorite band is Metallica. In contrast, I’m nearly 70 and my favorite music type is sacred piano, and one of my favorite performers is Steve Hall. Our music vocabularies had almost no overlap. If I had to prepare a playlist of her favorites, I would really struggle. But I enjoyed talking with her and learning a little about heavy metal music. I now have a little better understanding of the incredible breadth of music that can speak to our souls.

Thinking about the power of music is something I’ve been doing for several months. As you may know from previous blog posts, I’m writing a book with the current working title of Talking with God through Music. I’ve actually been working on this book for over a year. Originally I intended it to be a daily devotional with personal reflections on 365 of my favorite hymns. I started writing the book in late 2016, and I started the project by writing reflections on hymns of thanksgiving. Then I worked on Christmas Carols. The more I wrote, and the more I organized my favorite hymns into different categories to figure out where in the year they should be placed in the book, I decided it made sense to start the book with a month’s worth of hymns based on Psalms – the hymn book of the Bible. I finished writing the Psalm section of my book the last time I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare, a few weeks ago.

Now that I’ve written 31 reflections on Psalm-based hymns, I’ve decided to publish this collection of hymns and reflections as a separate book, Talking with God through Music: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns. My plan is to use this 68-page book as a prototype for the larger book. I experimented with a lot of new things in writing this book, and I want to find out if all my extra homework is worth the effort. I did quite a bit of research into each hymn to be able to provide information about the author, the composer, and the historical context, along with my personal reasons for choosing the hymn as one of my favorites. I also learned to use music-writing software to create a melody line for each hymn so that readers can actually see the music and lyrics next to my paragraphs to help them remember what the hymn sounds like – to be able to sing it in their mind or even out loud.

I hope that readers will give me feedback on the prototype that will help me tweak the style and format for the larger book. My goal for the final book is to help readers discover how music, hymns in particular, can enrich their ability to talk with God. Music is the language of the soul. As St. Augustine said more than 1500 years ago, “Whoever sings prays twice.” And, as we were reminded last Thursday, music is an amazing means of communication for everyone, regardless of their cognitive state.

fullsizeoutput_22a7If you would like a copy of Talking with God through Music: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns, let me know. I’ll be happy to send you one. I’d really appreciate your feedback on the concept and structure of the book before I put together my next book. My goal is to submit the text of the prototype to the publisher this week, and to receive the printed copies within a week or two. I’ll write another blog post when I have the books in hand.

 

An Endless Supply of Grandmas

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

Doris and Abbey comforting each other.

Doris and Abbey reminding each other how much love there is in the world

Seven years ago, Mim and I were interviewed by a 12-year-old boy. We wanted to adopt his 3-year-old dog Abbey. He wasn’t able to keep her any more, and he put her up for adoption through the Humane Society.  We saw Abbey’s picture on the Internet, and called the number listed to schedule a time to meet Abbey and be interviewed by the 12-year-old. During the interview, we told him that Abbey would have an endless supply of grandmas to pet her if she would live with us. That clinched it. We were chosen to be the lucky ones among all the people who wanted to adopt Abbey.

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been developing new marketing materials for Country Comforts Assisted Living. That got me thinking about all the grandmas and grandpas that have lived with us for assisted living over the years. I remembered that promise to Abbey’s previous owner. Yes, Abbey has been fortunate to have all those grandmas and grandpas to pet her.

Abbey comforting Patti during her last days

Abbey comforting Patti during her last days

But Abbey isn’t the only one who’s been fortunate. Mim and I are the “middle generation” between Abbey and these grandmas and grandpas. We’ve been blessed with all these “moms” and “dads.” Most people get only one mom and one dad. Over the past ten years we’ve had almost twenty“moms” and three “dads.” How fortunate is that – to get all these bonus moms and dads after our own were no longer with us!

What prompted me to develop new marketing materials for Country Comforts is the fact that this year we changed our focus from general assisted living care to end-of-life care. When people draw near to the end of their life, often they choose to receive hospice care at home with their loved ones taking care of them. A hospice organization can provide help, but the majority of caregiving is done by family members. Sometimes, family members are not able to give the end-of-life care at home that their loved one needs. That’s where Country Comforts can help. Rather than going to a nursing home, their loved one can move into our home where we will provide the skilled and attentive care they need. We will work together with the hospice organization of the family’s choice to care for the loved one and help coordinate a wide range of end-of-life issues – physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and legal. Our role is to support the resident and their family in any way we can.

Abbey helping Anna celebrate her birthday

Abbey helping Anna celebrate her birthday

While putting together brochures to explain the end-of-life care we want to provide, I went through pictures of many of these special people who have entered our lives over the past ten years. Our lives really have been enriched by each person who has lived with us. One whole section of the book I wrote about hospitality (Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest) is about the people who have lived with us for assisted living. In the book, I tell a one- or two-page story about each person. I’ve re-read that section of the book many times to let my mind spend more time remembering each one. (You can find more information about the book at http://mariankorth.com/come-lord-jesus.html.)

Some of these bonus grandmas (or moms, depending on your perspective) are pictured here. More of them are included on our Country Comforts website (www.CountryComfortsAssistedLiving.com). I redesigned the website last weekend to reflect our new focus. If you take a peek at the website and are confused by any explanations that are unclear or find any bad links, please let me know. I’ll appreciate any suggestions you may have to make our website better. We want to be sure Abbey never runs out of the endless supply of grandmas we promised her.

Angels Among Us

Abbey kissing Marian bwThe past three weeks have been quite strenuous for all of us at Country Comforts Assisted Living. One of our residents was living through his last days in this life. Abbey is always a really big comfort to our residents as well as to their friends and family during this time of life transition, but it takes its toll on her too. I talked with her about that this morning.

“Good morning, Abbey. How are you feeling today?”

“Good morning, Mom. I think I’m a little better, but I’m still not feeling very chipper. My stomach still feels funny and I don’t have lots of energy. I think I want to keep my walks pretty short today.”

“That’s too bad. We’ll keep you on rice and hamburger for another day, too. You’ve been feeling bad for almost a week now. What do you think is wrong?”

“Oh, I know what’s wrong, and it will just take me some time to recover.  I really miss Robert. [I’ve changed his name to protect his privacy.] I know he lived with us less than three weeks, but he was such a nice man. His first morning here he shared his bacon with me – a bite for him and a bite for me, back and forth until we ate it all up. He shared it equally with me. I don’t know any human that’s been that generous. And he petted me so gently. When his eyes looked at me, I could tell that he was a man filled with love.”

“Yeah. I agree, Abbey. Robert really was a nice man. He had lots of friends who came to visit him. A lot of people really liked him.”

“That’s for sure. His daughter came to see him a couple times every day, and she always greeted me at the door with some good petting. And her husband always had treats for me in his pocket. Robert had one really special friend who sat beside him for hours, just being with him.”

“You know, Abbey. We’re really lucky. We’ve said before that our house is filled with a cloud of love when someone is coming to the end of their life. The house is filled with the love of friends and relatives. It’s so peaceful.”

Abbey Profile 2“But that’s not all, Mom. I know you didn’t see them, but angels were here during Robert’s last couple days, too. Robert talked about the two men and two women he saw in the corner. I saw them, too. They were angels who had come to comfort Robert and to show him the way home to God. Many of the people who come here for end-of-life care see angels before they pass on to the next life. I know you can’t see them, but I do, and the person who’s getting ready to be born into their new life sees them, too.”

“You know, Abbey, the Bible actually talks about that. In Psalm 91:11-12 it says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” (NRSV) God sends his angels to watch out for us. I know we often have angels in our house when a guest draws near to the end of their life. I can’t see them, but our guests often tell us about the angels they see in their room.”

“Actually, I hate to say it, Mom, but I think that’s what upsets my stomach. I’m so excited by these heavenly guests that my body doesn’t know how to react. And when the angels leave, taking our guest with them, it takes me a few days to recover from the amazement of what I’ve seen and felt. I also miss our guest.”

“I think that might explain why you always seem to get sick just as one of our residents gets ready to move on to their next life.”

“I’ll get over it. I’m so thankful for how much God has blessed us by letting all these special people and their angels live with us, even if it’s just for a short time.”

“You’re right, Abbey. We’re so fortunate to have all these people share their lives with us. God has really blessed us.”

Family Portrait - Marian, Abbey, Mim

Family Portrait – Marian, Abbey, Mim