How the Past Can Help the Present – by Maryellen Kernaghan

There is a wonderful video called “Care home turns back the clock on dementia”.  You
can find it at  www.bbc.uk and search under “health” .  I highly suggest seeking it
out.  It talks about using the past to calm dementia patients in the present.  How
often have any of us, as caregivers, been frustrated or even frightened by our
inability to reach our loved ones when they seem lost in the fog of forgetfulness?

In my own experience as a care giver, it was recalling the past that best engaged my
93 year old mother in articulate conversation, when she would ask a question about
her current state, such as “where is the dog” every 2 minutes, even when answered
every time.  It was not out of spite that she would repeat and repeat these kinds of
questions, she simply could not retain the information.    But when she spoke of her
youth, when asked about her job at Lord and Taylor’s in NYC when she was in her
20’s, she could describe the exact dress she bought with a matching coat and hat
when dating my father, and how much he liked that particular ensemble….and could
carry on that conversation in a linear way for MUCH longer than she could remember
the answer to “where is the dog” – even when the dog was sitting at her feet!  Or,
when played a song from 1930’s, could tell you exactly where she was when she first
heard that song, and perhaps, how she and her sisters would dance together to the
music on Saturday morning, when helping in the housekeeping with her own mother,

When ArtsCare (www.artscareus.org) visits a facility, we use the arts as a vehicle
to engage the elderly in activities that can increase their motor and social skills,
or reduce their level of anxiety.  Music is a great resource –  William Congreve is
credited with having said “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften
rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”   We need to be credited with USING this blessed

Maryellen Kernaghan
www.artscareus.org521 E. 6th Street #2
New York, NY 10009

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.
-Twyla Tharp



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