Bonae Memoriae: Of Happy Memory – The Blog

Bonae Memoriae the Blog

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Blog Purpose

What is Bonae Memoriae (BON-ay meˈmo.ri.ae̯) other than a Latin phrase that we might stumble on when trying to pronounce? It means, “of happy memory.” It is the name of this blog and my mission statement in short.

When working with dementia we are never sure what the person we are sitting next to might be able to recall or what they will remember from our time together. So we approach our visit with great care and creativity, working to make our time joy-filled. If we do this, it will be a happy memory. As the saying goes, “People will not always remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

The purpose of this blog is to be a guide for those who read it. It is not meant to be a medical or mental health resource, or diagnostic guide, but to discuss moments of the dementia journey. Not everything will be founded in scientific research, but all will be based on experience, both that of my own and of those I work with who have given me permission to share their story on this public platform. This blog is to serve as a discussion starter, and place to develop our shared story. If you have questions about anything I have posted, or find an inaccuracy, please do not hesitate to contact me directly. The opinions and stories are my own unless otherwise stated. Should something be referenced you will find the proper citation at the bottom of that particular post.

I don’t often have guest authors, however, if you would like to write a post for consideration I will gladly consider your submission. If you would like to share your story of dementia please consider writing a letter for the Dementia Letters Project. You may submit your letter by emailing dementialettersproject@gmail.com.

Are We Like A Burnt Tea Kettle?

There is something about a burnt tea kettle that connects all of us. We seem to have those stories, don’t we? Of a time when we forgot to put water in the kettle and turned on the burner or the time when we put it in the oven to take it off the cooktop and later turned on the oven and burnt up the kettle. All of us, either ourselves or someone we know have done something like this. It links us all, much like our humanity.

As we navigate this dementia journey, facing the many unknowns, it is our shared humanity that continues to connect us, guide, us and support us. When we ignore our humanity we become charts, numbers, and task lists. Much like that burnt tea kettle, we forgot to fill ourselves with water, with life, we have forgotten our humanity. Unlike that tea kettle, we can be thrown in the snow when we realize our mistake, human beings cannot be thrown out. They/we need to be renewed, restored, and reminded of the beauty of life, regardless of our trials. Unlike that tea kettle, we cannot run out to the store (or order on Amazon) a new one.

When we realize that we have forgotten our humanity, regardless of any “issues” we or another person may have, we cannot just continue to let them go or throw them out. This is true for individuals living with dementia, residents in a care community, and even for the care partners amongst us. As I think about this idea of restoring human life (regardless of circumstances) I cannot help but think of two quotes. The first is from Audrey Hepburn, “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.” The second is from Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” We can’t go back to before, but we can renew and restore our lives. We are constantly becoming. Each day brings with it something new, a lesson, an experience, a trial, a joy, and these experiences change us. So, when we forget our humanity and allow ourselves to become like that burnt tea kettle, we can’t go back to redo that time, we have changed, we maybe even have a scar or two, but we can be restored and do not need to be thrown out and replaced.

It is reconnecting with others, with ourselves that we are filled back up with water again. We can share our stories of that time we burnt the tea kettle with laughter, an eye roll, and a smile and suddenly we have found a moment within our humanity that brings us joy and connection. At the beginning of this year, we are like a tea kettle filled with water. We look forward with hope and joy, excitement and energy. May we, along the way, remember to refill as we give to our careers, our families, those we care for, and those we serve and encounter. May we end 2020 not like the burnt tea kettle, but like a well-loved one that has helped bring moments of connection to others, constantly refielled, and restored.

For You, Our Activity Professionals

We are 3 days into National Activity Professional week. It is not without our Activities and Life Enrichment staff that we could provide care and cultivate community to the best of our ability. The teams that lead everything from bingo to imaginative programming developed specifically for a group of individuals, are the front lines of our care communities. They are the individuals who are charged, not with a clinical or medical checklist, but a personal one and are called to become relational with our residents in a way that is unique and quite remarkable. This is the team that has the least amount of specialized training yet hold the greatest impact on the day to day life of the community. They become friends, companions, and family, and they hear the stories of each life with great compassion, curiosity, and at times sorrow. If you work for a care organization and do not know these individuals, get to know them and thank them. Call them up, drop a card in their office, or give them words of gratitude the next time you see them.

Activity professionals are more than the staff hired by anyone community, this group also includes those who are contracted to work with a community for any length of time or amount of sessions. These individuals are true salmon swimming upstream, seeking to provide programming, connections, and joy, all the while not having a team to support them, or the stability of a single community. These individuals are often paid anywhere between 60-90 days after the end of their service, making their dedication, a sacrificial one. They too deserve a, “Thank you.” Send them a card or an email. Call them up or text them. Hire them!

The work of activity professionals is more than what meets the eye. The programs they offer can transform our communities. The type and richness of each program seeks to improve the quality of life for everyone. triggering a chain of events that leads to a reduction in medical needs and staff burn out, saving the community time and money.

Often when we think of programming in our care communities we think of the standards, bingo, trivia, movies, music, games. We think of a few people coming out for an hour or two, or a large crowd gathering, seeking connections. But programming can be so much more than that. It can be creative, playful, childlike (NOT childish!), and it can be truly tailored to the specified personalities, interests, and hopes of the individuals we serve. No matter what programs are offered, there should be a much greater goal than filling a calendar or creating a feel-good environment for the sales and marketing team. Activity professionals are called to help reach the spirit of each person they are asked to serve, to help them continue to become, instead of solely reminiscing about who they were. They are called to see beyond (just as all care staff and community members), to see what each person can do, and encourage that movement to take place. They are expected to know how to work with individuals with dementia, move a wheelchair down the hall, support the resident in completing a task associated with the program, and understand the complexities of the multiple needs of the community. They are asked to pray for and with the residents, to hear their stories, to support them emotionally. They do all of this with little support, continued education, and recognition. They do this in part-time roles without benefits, a small hourly wage and little to no options for growth. They are remarkable people, with hearts larger than mosts. When they struggle, their struggles lie mostly in the abandonment of the administration of the care community. When they succeed their wins are taken by others. Often they are given the tools, but not supported in implementing those tools. They receive lip-service and are scolded when the medical team does not see the beauty of their role. Now, in saying this there are exceptions, but I have not met many.

To all Activity Professionals, working in great and beautiful ways, I say, THANK YOU! Keep going! We need you! You enrich the lives of others in ways you may never be able to understand. Keep dreaming, imagining, playing, envisioning a better way to fill your calendar and the time you spend with those you serve.

In a perfect world, your community would support you in attending conferences, training in the programs you see as beautiful additions to your portfolio of work, and would allow you to live fully in your role. They would value you the same way they value their highest administration professionals. To the communities that support this vision, THANK YOU! I hope you become the industry leaders, the change-makers, the new “normal.” But, since we don’t live in a perfect world, how can I support you?

One way that I am attempting to support you, is by offering on-line training in Creative Engagement and Dementia, to help you become better activities and life enrichment professionals working in our care communities (dementia or not.) Since this is a week when we finally recognize your great beauty and work, if you are an activity professional, let me know, and I will give you a code to take my online training at a discounted rate. Because this post is not meant to be a sales pitch (we all hate those, don’t we?) the details will be linked here. But I do hope you consider joining me. Let us change the story of the activity professional together!

Because I cannot say it enough, we cannot say it enough, THANK YOU!

How do We Value Our Care Communities?

I did some scrolling recently in aging and care. I looked at the communities and what they were promoting. I looked at the education of the people working in these care communities. I found a problem. You know how I feel about “person-centered care” these days, how it has become nothing but a warm fuzzy badge people put on their marketing and sales pitches. Taking closer examination, we know this is not always the case, but still, it happens too often. Corporate is dictating what must happen for individuals whom they will never meet, and staff is providing programming without first becoming relational with the people that trust them with their care. In the few times, I have been able to have candid conversations about the state of care, I have walked away saddened and furious by the direction we are heading.

There are two areas I find alarming. The education required for staff when hired (and after being hired) and the building design ego.

A level of formal education achieved, does not equal one’s intelligence, talent, character, or ability to do great things. To reach a level of education is not a marker for anything, but a point in one’s journey through this life. So as you see others achieve what they have set out to accomplish in this life academically, remember education comes in two forms, formal and informal, and your actions with the purpose you carry within you are what is truly remarkable. Yet, lawyers, socials workers, MBAs are being hired over people with true experience and passion for working in elder care simply because of the letters behind their name. The education of an individual cannot do all the work.

Once hired, we rarely provide the education our staff truly seek in dementia, in creative engagement, in becoming relational with a wide group of individuals, in current and best practices. Why are our networking groups filled with the sales and marketing team, when it should be filled with our CNAs and Life Enrichment staff?

Without beautiful care partners working within the building, without a care model that is not about money, image, census, corporate demands, or marketing warm fuzzies, with an organization that puts the sales department ahead of the CNAs, Nurses, and Life Enrichment team, this is not a community anyone of us would want to live in. Yet, we comment on the feel of the building before talking about the quality of life. The beauty of the building you offer your residents and community cannot do all the work.

I am not naive enough to think that education, money, sales, and image can just be left at the dumpster. Money is needed to care for your community, to keep lights on, to hire the staff you need. With all of the “beds” filled and a waitlist, you have stability. These are not bad things, but what is, is the way we view and treat each element of care. So what can we do?

I wonder if the industry is paralyzed by fear and the judgment of what the community and industry will think of who they are as an organization and care community? I wonder if we fear to look like a stereotype or will be judged if we don’t have a chandelier in our entryway?

Any real and good change starts at the lowest level in my book, yet without good leaders at the top, the culture change will be painful and difficult. Most people that work in the care industry today are good people. They came to the position they hold wanting to help, to make a difference, they saw something within themselves that said, “you will be good at this.” And, some maybe even came to this job because they needed a job, but even then there was something that sparked within themselves when applying for the position. Yet, we cannot rely on passion and character alone. We must support the specific, narrow, dedicated continuing education and support to help each individual thrive, both staff and resident.

What are our actions steps?

Allowing for our CNA’s and Life Enrichment staff to network with others, to expand their education in creative engagement and dementia.

By finding ways to implement those programs and certifications we have earned so they are integrated into our care model.

Engaging family to participate in programs and meals, allow staff to share meals with residents. We know the power of breaking bread together, so let us find ways and times to make that happen.

Forget about the judgment of others! All areas of life need this statement. I know the State has its guidelines and we have rules to follow, but where can we play? Where can we drop the judgment of other care communities and aging professionals, and find the freedom to truly connect with the community we are seeking to cultivate?

Don’t hire because of a degree (I know you do) and place into balance the informal and formal education of an applicant. You can a Social Worker is not needed to lead a Life Enrichment team. Think about where that advanced degree truly is necessary, and allow passion and experience to fill in the rest.

Fellow Visionaries! Do Not Give Up!

Every once in a while I hear a peer of mine say they are going to give up trying. Burnt out by the current medical and care world, tired of being told their ideas are not worthy of exploration or not inline with the “industry standards.” They are tired. We are tired. Not too long ago, I overheard a woman say that she was going to quit her position and move into a role where she could no longer be abused for her ideas. She was referring to an incident with a care community she worked for, poured her heart and soul into, deciding after she left, to implement one of her ideas in their memory care community. They executed the plan point by point and took credit as if the idea was their own. They did this, not only after she left the job, but also after they told the ideas didn’t fit the image they wanted, nor were any other communities doing anything like this program. I wanted to go up to her, hug her, and tell her to keep going! This would have been a touch creepy since I didn’t know her, nor was I fully apart of the conversation. I chose to not say anything to her. I regretted that decision later that day and posted on Twitter this statement,

“It is rough being a visionary, to suggest ways to improve care and connection, only to be knocked down and see the organization or program, a few months or years later, be implement without you, the exact thing you brought to the table. But keep going. We need you!”

I know this statement doesn’t make up for remaining silent, but I hoped a larger audience would see it, and maybe find some comfort, or at least feel a spark of energy to keep going.

Anyone at any time who has called themselves, or were called by others, a visionary or innovator, has experienced someone telling you your ideas are “stupid” (or a related statement fitting for your setting) and have them turn around without you to do exactly (or something almost identical) what you worked for and shared. It starts in grade school and moves into the professional world. It hurts, stings, is frustrating and causes us to feel a range of emotions. You have every right to go through this emotional journey, but please, don’t give up!

Whether you are the type of person that uses this experience to fuel you or not, know that we must keep going! While someone may have used your ideas and plan as their own, it was still set into motion by people who have a different lens of the world. You could go and do the program, exactly how you envisioned it, and it could be completely different because it came from the unique perspective and talents you bring to the experience. You may be working with a different group of people, in a different area or stage of life. The impact will be no less powerful. The lives you touch are no less worthy.

As I type this, I am feeling the sting of this experience. In short, a graduate program recently implemented two ideas that I had regarding theatre and older adults. These programs, while not exact, were quite similar to what I shared with the program back in 2012 in meetings with faculty. At the time of presenting these ideas and sharing how I would like to apply the degree to my work in aging and dementia, I was given the run-around. They combined a blend of comments with those sounding something along the lines of, “We don’t work with that population. It is not something we focus on and don’t see ourselves changing.” This hurt of course, but I moved forward. These theatre programs were put in place over the past two years, without me, without my input, without my knowledge, and one of the programs received international attention. This stings, respect for these individuals sinks lower, and where does one go from here? This place of hurt, betrayal, and abuse? We move forward! We create something new. We focus on those we wish to serve and support, and we envision a new program, event, and/or connection. There is enough work for all of us! While the actions of organizations such as this university are wrong and borderline unethical, it happens. It occurs on some scale every single day. If we are true visionaries, we will find something new, improve on what this group of people did, learning from their mistakes and enhancing their successes. There is another theatre piece in me, another creative idea already starting to take motion, and the people that this work will impact will far outweigh the hurt of this present moment. It is hard, but don’t think of the administration that is abusing you, think of the people these programs and models will benefit. If necessary, confront those abusing your innovation and vision, but don’t allow it to take over your every thought, or cause you to want to quit your job. Only you know the line that must never be crossed in your life. Keep going, keep creating, keep working towards a better way to care, serve, and support the lives of those around us.

Christmas Day


The time for Christ’s birth has come. The moment we have been preparing for these last 25 days is now. May your hearts radiate with joy on this blessed Christmas day. May you welcome the Christ Child with open arms and hearts seeing Him in those around us. 
Merry Christmas everyone! May you have a beautiful Christmas season, filled with great joy, love, hope, and peace. I will see you all in the New Year.

Joy and Oak Street Health

Have you ever experienced the joy of health care workers? Of health care workers in aging? These past few months, I have. Before the end of next year, Rhode Island will have gained three Oak Street Health clinics. I had heard the name before, but until this past Autumn, it didn’t mean anything as I had never lived near an Oak Street clinic. I have found that these individuals, in addition to working in a very interesting and visionary model of care, are filled with JOY! Each one of them excited about the work they do, the people within their care, and the opportunity to make a great impact each day.
You walk into their clinic and are greeted, not as a chart or problem, but as a human being. The space is well lit and inviting. As staff members and doctors move around the building they acknowledge you exist. They may not be the only clinic or care organization that has an inviting space and staff, but there isn’t the same joy. Joy. JOY. JOY! Since it is the Christmas season we hear this word almost every day, but there is also a growing trend in dementia care to seek and live in joy. It is something we are all after. We know that happiness (although we were created for it) is not possible 100% of the time, but joy, joy can be experienced in the brightest and darkest of moments. When we think of the people that have impacted our lives the most, many times these individuals lived in and with joy. Do you live a life of joy?
In our doctor’s offices and care organizations, we must have a staff of joy. This joy may or may not be the only light for anyone on any particular day. It shifts the mood from doom and gloom and lays a foundation for hope, health, healing, and peace. It is in the joy that we find the materials to cultivate a true and thriving community. If you are not living in joy, what is stopping you? If you want joy, but don’t know how to get it, start with a smile, then move to a grateful heart, and finish with the knowledge that we are not our trials, illnesses, conditions, or failures. The pain of our humanity is not forever nor is it the defining theme of our life.
While wrapped up in the spirit of Christmas and this holiday season take note of the joy around you, and adapt it to your story. Make it apart of your being. Share it at work and see the beautiful transformations in your community because of these small steps. We are all seeking ways to improve the world, and it is only in our small, daily steps that we can do just that. Start with joy.
If you live near an Oak Street Health and are on Medicare, see if they might be a good fit for you. If you are a health care worker, witness what Oak Street is doing, and learn from how they approach their vocations.

4th Week of Advent

We have arrived at the fourth and final week of Advent. Although it is a short week, we are still called to continue to prepare our hearts for Christmas. So much goes on during this time of year, and as Christians, we seek to see beyond the gifts and decorations, enjoying them of course, but recognizing the call to prepare the way of the Lord. We must allow not only our eyes to see the beauty of Christ’s coming, but our hearts as well. To see and listen to the great wonder of God’s gift of the Christ child to all of us. If you have prayers left unsaid, preparations of the soul not yet completed, you still have time. Allow the preparations of faith to take precedence over the material. Bring the hope, joy, peace, and love of this season into your final preparations. Christ is near. Come and gather at His manger.

3rd Week of Advent

During Advent, we focus on 4 virtues that Christ brings, Hope, Love, Joy, Peace. On this Gaudete “week” we look towards Joy. We see a special light this week as we light the rose candle. We are finishing up our preparations for the physical beauty and wonder of this season, and continue to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. It is easy to lose patience during this week. For some the excitement is growing, for others, the dread and loneliness intensify. For those feeling the pressure of this time, remember that Mary is with you on this journey, interceding for you and to take time this week to see the light and awe of this time. For those overwhelmed with excitement, remember to still seek moments of stillness and silence. Oh, Come Emmanuel!

#FREEFROMAGESIM – A Process of Transition and Freedom

I have been watching videos for LeadingAge’s #FREEFROMAGEISM. Sharing our stories of aging and ageism. The process of the old being replaced by the new, the time of transition and change. The complexities of aging in appearance and allowing it to happen. The process of allowing ourselves to no longer be “young.” As part of this #FREEFROMAGEISM, we have been encouraged to share our thoughts, experiences.

We see our obsession and discomfort with aging all around us, in the products we buy and their corresponding marketing campaigns, in the movies and TV shows we watch, in interviews and YouTube channels. I don’t think we are always afraid to grow old, but we are afraid to age. We are afraid of losing our youth. We want both the wisdom only time can provide and our young years (well, maybe not the years but the physicality of those years.) We can’t have both, nor should we want to. It is frequently said, “Growing old is the only option. The alternative is death.” We highlight the great freedom that comes with getting older, not caring with others think of us as much, not feeling the need to impress someone, yet, we envy those still in their teens and twenties. We have that light spirit of growing older, but we don’t want to look older, revealing the shallow parts of our world.

This shallowness informs our agist mentality that we call carry with us, got to battle with, and hopefully overcome. Agism happens across the lifespan. We are always too old or too young. Others judge us and our ability based on how many years since our birth, and not the life within those years. They see items in a medical chart and determine our ability. It happens all the time and people get away with it every day. We rarely acknowledge that this is a form of discrimination, be it for a job, a grad school application, or a volunteer position. Instead of seeking answers, labels are given based on our age and the perceived ability and life within that age. It knows no limits and reaches every person on this earth.

I have always (or so they say) looked younger than I am. Up until about a year or two ago, people still placed me in high school. I would roll my eyes then think, “I will thank them one day.” Am I feeding ageism with these thoughts? As my group of peers turned 30 this year, we are fed messages of, “Your youth is over, prepare for the decline.” and “You have not yet accomplished x, y, and z? You are almost 30!” While the group responds saying things such as, “Oh gosh I am 30!!!!” and “Time has run out! I am too old to do a, b, and c,” I found myself out of place with these responses. I realized I had no fear of turning 30, no fear of growing old, no fear of looking older. But, was I still putting agist pressures on myself? The few strands of grey on my head I have had since I was 5 years old, they don’t bother me. When I look in the mirror I still see the person I was 15 years ago. I don’t feel any older, but I do wish for those years of “youth” to come back, to change the way I did things, saw things, experienced life. These thoughts are part regret, part wishing I could live it again to see something new. What is stopping me from seeing something new these next 15 years? Is this thought from the external world, because it is not internal? For me, I never felt pressured to do anything from marriage, career or education. Any sense of urgency came from knowing my vocation and wanting to start the work God set before me. Yet, I still hear and see the messages (we all do) and I am not immune to the noise. In those thoughts, that I will one day thank all who still think I am much younger than I am, am I caving to those agist messages.

For those wanting to study and work in aging and dementia, we are discriminated against in an agist fashion and that too is a form of ageism. We are discouraged going into geriatrics and the many branches that come from working with that population, fear is instilled in perspective aging and dementia professionals, and individuals are cut from programs based on the population they want to serve. It is harming our ability to care for others, especially our elders who will soon outnumber those under the age of 18. Who will care for you when you grow old and need extra support and care if we do not change this perception soon? Who will be left to research cures for Alzheimer’s or other illnesses and trials facing us as we age, if we do not shift our perspectives soon?

What are your experiences of ageism, agist thoughts and comments?

2nd Week of Advent 2019

Waiting. Anticipating. Which one are you this Advent season? Are you both? We frequently are told that Advent is a time of waiting, waiting for the Christ Child’s birth, waiting for the second coming of Christ, but are we waiting or anticipating? Waiting is passive, anticipating brings a sense of joy and action. Both are needed in this season of Advent. We need times when we are actively preparing our hearts (and homes) for Christmas, and we need times when we sit in the stillness, which is sometimes impossible to find. As we decorate our homes, and light the 2nd candle on our Advent wreath, praying with our families and church communities we are both actively and quietly looking for Christmas day to arrive, improving ourselves and our relationship with God. This week we are called into action, to seek reconciliation and healing. This is not simply with our Lord, but with each other as well, for when we seek healing with others, we are drawing closer to Christ? How will you seek healing in both the waiting and anticipation of this season?