On November 11, the Leadership Council hosted our annual Next Steps Gathering! The event was conducted virtually on Zoom, which is fitting since our programs are conducted virtually this year due to the pandemic. The event was dedicated to and led by each division of the council. In the first half, each committee of the Amplifier division—Newsletter:), Social Media, Podcast and Special Events—presented their mission and shared their goals for the year. Then, Erica, Claire, and Ella led an activity called Myth or Truth. In this game, a statement about Alzheimer’s or aging was shared on the screen, and everyone would submit to a Zoom poll whether they believed it was true or just a myth.
The next portion of the program was led by the Community Building division. After a brief introduction, everyone was assigned to a breakout room. In each room, a few Young Leaders simulated a mini Sweet Readers program! I spent my time observing the “dance” breakout room, in which each participant performed a dance move that reminded them of their childhood or just made them feel a certain way. Watching the silly moves, the breakout room was filled with laughter as we learned about tidbits of people’s lives – something we do a lot in our programs where we discover each other through the arts.
After this fun activity, Ella, the president of the council, interviewed Whitney and Grace about their experiences with Sweet Readers and as Community Builders. It was so nice to hear their wonderful experiences and learn of their dedication to expanding the programs.
The evening was a huge success, proving that the Sweet Readers community is equally strong and supportive in a virtual setting. In going with this month’s theme, we are so grateful for everyone who attended the event—thank you for taking the time to hear about the amazing year of Sweet Readers ahead!
Here are the answers to some of the questions our guests asked us:
1. What is the state of scientific research into Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s research continues to ebb closer to finding, for starters, a way to slow or even prevent the disease. There does tend to be a fair amount of false or misleading news surrounding the disease, so for the most accurate information, please visit these resources:
2. What is the most important thing the students have learned?
Their ability to change a life for the better, both immediately and directly and through larger community building and awareness raising.
3. How would you help a young child engage with a grandparent who might be forgetting things or not acting like themselves?
First, we suggesting sharing with the young person that the forgetting is happening because of a problem in the grandparent’s brain and has nothing to do with the child personally. Then, you might encourage the child to hold their grandparent’s hand, touch their arm or shoulder gently and share a story from their day. Encourage them to speak loudly and clearly so that their grandparent can hear them and to make eye contact. Then challenge the Young Person to try to figure out what their grandparent CAN do and share that experience with them….ie. singing, taping a finger, moving a paint brush. For other tips, click here.
4. Would like to know the best kinds of activities (besides reading) to engage in with a grandparent who has Alzheimer’s.
The best way to figure out how to engage a grandparent is to start with the grandparent! What are their favorite activities? Think back to their childhoods, if you have access to that information. Did they like to dance, read, draw, tell stories, do math problems, play the piano? A good starting point is finding out their interests and finding simple ways to experience those things with them now. For other tips, click here.
5. What are the greatest needs when it comes to caring for people with Alzheimer’s?
There are so many needs and each person is different, but the first and most important basic needs for everyone are health and safety. People with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia are, as the disease progresses, prone to falling or getting lost. So first, be sure to get them a bracelet and a system of care that helps them to be seen and safe. Next are good hygiene and nutrition, which are part of good health. It is important that a basic hygiene routine and a healthy diet (fish, vegetables, fruits, grains) are established with a bit of oversight to ensure they are safely and consistently carried out. Equally important are dignity, love and stimulation. Alzheimer’s can be a humiliating and emotionally devastating disease. It is so important to take the time to listen to the person, give them agency over their own lives and choices and respect their needs. We all need love and people with Alzheimer’s are just like everyone else in that regard. Expressing genuine love is invaluable. Finally, stimulation, for their heart, their brain and their emotions, is critically important. See the answers to questions 3 and 4 above.
6. Are there any preventative measures (perhaps to increase brain sharpness?) to elongate the years before the potential onset of Alzheimer’s? We are thinking of our aging parents.
Yes! leading neuroscientists recommend the following five key factors:
1. Sleep! Get sleep – at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep is recommended;
2. Eat a heart healthy diet. What’s good for your heart is good for your brain;
3. Exercise. You don’t have to run a marathon. Try to talk at least 10,000 steps a day or get your heart beating with jumping jacks or a light jog. Be safe in your exercise routine and listen to your body. The goal is to get your heart beating and blood circulating.
4. De-stress! When you are under stress, your brain produces cortisol – it’s an invaluable fight or flight “drug” that protects you from harm. Too much cortisol, however, can create inflammation which is not good for your brain. To avoid too much cortisol, practice healthy ways of managing stress – consider problems as puzzles, or give yourself a pause before reacting – you might go for a walk or write? Another way to de-stress is to find a creative outlet – sometimes doing it alone is wonderful and sometimes with a friend, parent or grandparent, if you are lucky enough to still have one!
5. Learn new things and socialize! Find new routes on your daily walks or drives, learn a new language or instrument. When you learn new things, your brain creates new synapses and that is always a good thing. Dementia kills brain cells, so the more you have the better! And the cool thing about socializing is, as you discover new people, you are not only building new synapses, if you are also enjoying your time and relaxing in a social environment, they you are de-stressing!
Click here to learn more.
7. What is the most common reason that a client leaves the program?
Very few clients leave our programs. Unfortunately, on rare occasions, the progression of the disease makes it too difficult for a person to engage. In some cases the person is sleeping during too many programs or becomes too agitated to sustain the full hour. Sadly, the most common reason people leave our programs, however, is the end of their life.