Sunday, March 31, 2013

Engaging the Elderly in a Dialog with Art via Art Slides



Art invites the mind to ponder the seemingly endless possibilities of form and color. I fell in love with art as a dialog between the viewer and the work itself when I was twelve years old and my mother took me to NYC, we lived in East Brunswick, NJ., to view an exhibit of contemporary women artists at the MOMA. After we walked the gallery floors, we went to a nearby bookstore where I purchased my first art poster for my bedroom wall. I was hooked. I have a particular passion for work done by conceptual artists and, too, for painters like Agnes Martin and Mark Rothko (his art above).

One of the younger seniors that attends the Bridge expressed an interest in art by Picasso, Dali and Matisse. I searched EBay for some affordable slides and was fortunate enough to have placed the winning bid on 40 slides of work by Matisse and Lichtenstein.


I pulled the slide viewer I had used in my classroom (for that post view here) from one of the boxes of materials stored in my closet and brought it to work. I showed the senior that I thought would enjoy it the most how to use the viewer and how to handle the slides. I don't have a white glove...yet.



 As he looked at one slide and then another.


He made comments about the color and referred to objects he thought the imagery reminded him of.


I looked at a few of this senior's paintings later that week. I saw so much beauty in his color choices and his minimalist style. They invite a dialog within myself that I do not yet have words to express outwardly. I think I will add his name to my list of favorite artists. Here is a recent piece he painted for you to converse with:



Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Mystery Bag - Coins / Sensorial Activities for the Elderly



After I witnessed how successful the coin bank game was with the clients at the Bridge, I decided that I would piece together a mystery bag for them to use also. (To view my post written about this work used in the classroom go here) I found an interesting bag at the thrift store and a blindfold, also. I gathered coins from willing staff and put them in the bag, making sure that I have four of each: quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. I also printed out a large print version of a coin identification chart for those individuals that may need prompting in regards to knowing which coin is which.


 It was really great to see the two money works sitting side by side on the "Montessori" shelves.


I invited the senior who had done the coin bank game the day before to join me in a new activity. Before we started, however, I showed him how to put a tissue on top of the blindfold before putting the blindfold on. This is what I was taught in my training. It helps in preventing the spread of eye infections as multiple people will be using the same blindfold.



Too, I guided his fingertips over the edges of the coins highlighting the differences. He was very quick to note which coin was which by this method.


Soon he had the blindfold on and was pulling out one coin after another and naming each.



He got every coin right. Each time he pulled one from the bag, he would say "Smooth around the edges," or he would say, "Small and light, this is a dime."


The next day, I invited another senior to do the work. Like the first senior, she felt the ridge of each coin and named each one correctly. Only the pennies were challenging for her. She said she had trouble feeling the surface engravings on the pennies as some were more worn than others.


After she did the work, we talked about how using a blindfold makes you more aware of the tactile impressions of your environment via your hand. We both agreed that is would be great work to do before beginning a sketch; she is an excellent artist, or before starting to write a story; I am a writer.

Using a blindfold with the elderly always needs to be done in a one on one setting and always when they are seated. Every person's senses are unique and their experiences garnered via those senses are also unique. This is why sensorial materials are recommended to be mostly used by one person at a time. An exception is when two adults or students are working together. In this case, one wears the blindfold while the other assists with the materials in use.

I am putting together a second mystery bag this weekend of small objects. I am on the hunt for what to put in there...oh the fun of it!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Montessori Coin Game - Math Activities for the Elderly



I have such wonderful memories of my students using the coin bank game. They really enjoyed using this material and used again and again. Over the past several weeks, I have pieced together a tray to use this game at the Bridge with some of the seniors.

Not all of the adults that attend the Bridge have dementia. A few attend for socialization needs and others attend because they need supervision. That required supervision may be due to the medication that they are on or because the disease they have, such as Parkinson's, limits their capacity to be fully independent.

One of the challenges for the staff is to create activities that promote cognitive skills for those individuals who do not have dementia or Alzheimer's, although they attend a day program where they are immersed in a culture of memory loss or repetitive long term memory recollection.

Adding the Coin Bank Game to the other materials on the Montessori shelves just seemed to make sense.


It provides exercises in identifying the value of specific US coins and the exchange of those coins for others of equal value. This game refreshes and reinforces the skills needed to work with money on a basic level while simultaneously simply being a fun game to play.

This morning, I asked one of the Bridge attendees if they wanted to try a new game. He said he did. I went and got the tray from the shelf and then explained what each of the items on the tray were used for. I then showed him the beautiful lid of the box and explained that it was an image of Russian origins. He told me that he thought is was very pretty. Here is a very important point of interest - as in the classroom, always use beautiful materials.


I lifted the lid of the box and showed him what was inside.


First I took from the box two dice. This is different than the material I made for the classroom (see classroom post here), as I used only one dice for that tray. Using two dice allowed us each to hold onto our own and that limited the required exchange of materials that may have resulted in some confusion for the adults at the Bridge. This is a second vital point; ensure that all materials are psychologically appropriate - this is always significant.

To begin, I asked that the senior participant role his dice. He did. He got a five. He then selected five pennies from the box or bank.



 Next, he exchanged these five pennies for a nickel.



He continued to role his dice and I mine. Each time we chose from the bank the amount on the dice and then, if we could and only during our turn, we made any possible exchanges such as 2 nickles exchanged for a dime, so on and so forth.





The winner of the game was the player who accumulated four quarters via rolls of the dice and then exchanged those four quarters for the dollar bill.

The senior I was playing with won and you can see from his smile that he was most pleased that he did.


After the game ended he said to me, "That game teaches you how to work with money." He then told me that sometimes his caregivers give him money to purchase things. He also said that he has a coin jar at home. The coin game inspired him to think about money in regards to its use in his own life.

Also, shortly after we played this game, he was on the floor engaged in a golf activity with a half a dozen or more other seniors. Perhaps he felt more confident, I really don't know, but when the group was asked to add together the scores of players, he spoke up a few times with the correct answer. This was not a typical scenario. It did reveal that he is capable of mathematical thinking and to articulate his summations out loud. It's good, all good!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Practical Life with Elders - Botany



I have posted before about this particular senior and her leaf washing and do so again today as I learn more about this work every time I watch her do it. Too, she speaks to the plants when she cares for them and her spoken words reveal much. I recorded some of her conversation on a short video that I have included below.

Before she arrived at the Bridge, I placed the leaf washing tray on the red place mat that is used as a sort of placeholder. As soon as she arrived, I told her that I had much work that needed to be done and that I was hoping she would help me with it. "Just show me what you need done and I will do it. I love to help out. Love to," she answered. We walked to the back room together and I showed her the plants that needed her care.





I captured some of what she said in the following notes:

"Flowers and plants are important you know. They put oxygen in the air.

I am talking to the leaves cause they like being talked to. I am being very careful...ah, there is a baby one...so beautiful.

They are alive like us. I'm making sure I put a lot of water on them. Let me do the top then the bottom...I did that one. I don't mind doing this and they are happy as all get up. The more water I put on the more they love it. 

There are a lot of new shoots in here. That's good. Lovely, lovely...right in the middle here there are new shoots because we are taking care of them. 

I know what I am doing cause I did it before. I feel each one with my hand and that way I can tell if I washed it or not. I am dripping all over with water but its worth it cause they move...it's them saying thank you by peeking their heads up.  Nice and green...emerald green. I don't want to miss nobody. There ya go...I gotcha. What a little water can do. Thank you plant for letting me care for your body."




Saturday, March 2, 2013

Music as a Sensorial Reminder of Time and Transition Periods



When I worked at Blue Hills Montessori School, the head of the school at the time, Mr. Lilly, a wonderful man, suggested that I add a music box to my classroom. He thought that the three minute loop of music played when the lid of the box was lifted would be better than using the bell. The bell, he explained, rings for only an instant and is not always heard by all of the children. However, the three minute composition played by the box would be heard by all simply due to the duration of its playing. He felt that the music would drift even into the far corners of my classroom and gently inform the children that the three hour work period was coming to a close.

The children loved the music box he placed in my classroom. One student was assigned each day to wind it and to open its lid at the appropriate time. "Edelweiss" was heard daily and he was correct; by the end of the song, all of the children were putting their work away and making their way to the gathering. 

I attended an all day training last week for supervisors and administrators on dementia care. One of the subjects discussed was transition times in care facilities or day programs, and ways to assist seniors during these periods. While others brainstormed back and forth, I thought of the music box I used in my classroom. Too, I began thinking of my mother.

My mother holding me when I was a baby.

My mother, Carol Irene Slocum, died December 21, 2012. It's just a little more than two months since she fell in her home in Florida and my sister called to tell me that she was on life support. She stayed on support until a few of my siblings could fly down to be by her side when it was removed. What I thought about while I sat in that conference room last week was all the times I heard my mother's voice calling me in from the yard. Her voice was so present in my mind as I listened to other professionals speak.

It was then that I raised my hand and asked if a music box might be used to help some of the seniors acknowledge that the time for lunch had arrived. It may not be effective in a large nursing home, but at The Bridge where I work and where we often have only 12-15 seniors in attendance, it could be of use.

We often have one or two seniors, who aren't interested in doing group activities, sitting in the backroom doing a puzzle, knitting or just resting. These are the few that I believe the music box would best serve. And too, many with dementia do not have an awareness of the passage of time, so they need cuing. I am thinking that this cuing may include a three minute composition of classical music.  All of the other training attendees thought that I should try my idea. I will. I need to order a music box from eBay, but I will and I will let all of you know how it worked.

Sitting here, typing this at my kitchen table, my thoughts return again to the sound of my mother calling me, "Susan, time to come in." Her voice beckons me. I see all the seniors at the Bridge in my mind now, too. I see them moving from one room into another and then turning back towards the main room as they hear the first few notes coming from the music box. It calls them back as my mother called me.

"After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
                                                                                                                      Aldous Huxley