Leslie and Lynne’s Music Lists

Fun Activities

Lynne dancing to Footloose on the Alexa playlist she and Dad created over a Facebook Portal video chat.

A caregiver in Lynne’s memory care at Aegis was infected with COVID-19, halting face-to-face conversations through plexi-glass in their “Outdoor Living Room.” We are restricted to video chats, again.
Friends from high school to today have remembered she loves music and gets energized to dance. In 2017 co-workers from the self-labeled Microsoft Talent Posse remembered an outdoor Lyle Lovett concert, so they checked his schedule. He was coming in a few weeks and they went as a group. Leslie, from high school, said girl friends revved up pop hits to dance on the furniture and shout the lyrics. She saved her playlist and promised to send it to Lynne.
At our last outdoor chat, I read titles from Leslie’s interview to Lynne. She giggled at that memory. I noted ones that made her smile, or say, “Oh, yeah.” Footloose was her favorite. I created a playlist of popular rock songs from her teenage years through college.
I couldn’t play songs with her on my phone after the lockdown. It’s hard for me to make her laugh by being a funny comedian or an energizing caregiver like hero Dad’s are supposed to be. It’s a long, lonely feeling of failure when everything I say is met with a slack face and respectful silence, or statements like, “I’d better get back.” Besides, I like music too.
Alexa had to help me. Could I use my Alexa echo to create a playlist on Lynne’s echo dot? I didn’t find any way. Lynne would have to give Alexa the commands. They’re easy commands, but I doubted she could repeat them accurately. I rehearsed how to coach her and waited for her call – my calls rarely find her in her room – she busy socializing somewhere.
She called last night and leaned forward so I saw the top of her head. I fumbled through my rehearsed lines but finally got it. I said, “Tell Alexa to create a Lynne music playlist.” Lynne frowned while Alexa next to her said she’d create a playlist. I whispered to Lynne, “Say Alexa, play Night Fever.” She couldn’t remember all the words. I said it louder. Alexa played it. Lynne sat up and tilted her head, puzzled by the sudden music. I said, “Alexa add this song to Lynne Music playlist. Alexa obeyed.
Next I played Staying Alive. Lynne began singing lyrics with a smile. We added it to her playlist.
Lynne chuckled, “We’re going to get in trouble.”
I said, “I’ll bet you won’t be able to sit still at the next one, Alexa, play Footloose.” Lynne stood up and danced. I took a picture.
We played a few others. She told me I always make her laugh, and she loved me, and we’re going to get in trouble. Finally she decided it was time to return to her people and slowly walked out of her room.
I said, “Alexa, turn off.”
We had fun. But I went to sleep wondering if there was some way I could do more to fire her imagination. I miss listening to her talk and laugh. I miss her energy. She’s slipping away.

Resurrecting Memories from Friends

Fun activities.

Lynne on the far right in a butt race with South Eugene High School friends.

Facebook friends are resurrecting fond memories for Lynne. A friend I didn’t recognize commented that reading her posts meant a lot to her.  When I mentioned her name to Lynne, she paused, and said, “She’s a speech pathologist.” Pause. “She helped Henrik when he was in high school.”

That night I replied to her friend, “She remembers you as a speech pathologist, fondly, because you helped Henrik. For your information, he is in his junior year at WWU with a 3.6+ GPA with a major in communications. He’s taking journalism and research methods this summer.”  

Lynne lit up when I had news from Mary, a friend at South Eugene High School. They hadn’t seen each other for years before their 20th class reunion where they talked for hours. They’ve video chatted recently. She agreed to let me interview her.

Mary had photos of high school days at Christmas Parties and butt racing. Butt racing was one fun I missed during high school, so Mary showed me the picture of girlfriends sitting on the floor of a basement scooting on their butts to the opposite wall. That flashed memories for me because Lynne preferred scooting across the floor on her butt in her diaper by pushing off with one hand and then the other. She scooted so fast she refused to crawl. We set her down on her knees because we read crawling was important for developing body skills. She’d push onto her butt and take off. She crawled briefly walking was easier by then.

Lynne remembered when her classmates played an elaborate prank on their high school rival, Churchill, before a basketball tournament game. A boulder inside the campus was painted by Churchill students for various causes, so Mary and Lynne organized a midnight raid to paint the rock with SEHS purple before the game. Their tactical operations team successfully organized and executed the plan to scale the chain-link fence in paint clothes with paint cans and brushes, douse the rock in purple and escape back over the fence.  When they bought the paint, they added painter hats for each teammate. They wore the hats as they stood together and taunted the Churchill fans with cheers that undoubtedly created the essential energy necessary for SEHS to win with a last-minute shot.

Mary admitted she has tendencies to be a pack rat. She pulled memorabilia from boxes underneath her bed and sent photos, including her handwritten list of the 19 paint pranksters with a check mark by each name. As I read the names to Lynne she nodded or murmured, “Yep” at every name, except when she corrected me if I miss-pronounced the handwriting: “Jenni,” “Conklin,” “Ballin,”  She names brought extra comments: “He was way cool. I didn’t go out with him.” Why not?  “I was afraid.” Another:  “He was going to take me to the prom, but his dad wouldn’t let him.” Why? “Too late.”  Another: “He was always after me. I didn’t want to go out with him.”

I said, “You must have had quite a painting party.” Pause.

“That’s why they TP’d me.”

What?!  Our family was surprised by toilet paper draped all over our front yard and garage doors when we arrived home from a trip. Our three kids insisted it was a mystery to them. We never knew.   

Another FB friend teaches at Shoreline Public Schools. She commented, “I was in grad school with her at Seattle U. and adore her. I haven’t seen her in quite a while, but please tell her that JT says hello.”

When I mentioned her last name to Lynne, I fumbled her first name because I didn’t know it. Lynne smiled. “JT.” Pause. “That was nice.” Pause. “I’m so glad you’re doing this.”

I’m not ‘doing this’ – resurrecting memories of friends for Lynne to re-enjoy — her friends are doing it with us.

Breakthrough Video Chatting

Fun activities

Lynne talking to Dad on the Facebook Portal

We added technology to simplify communication between Lynne and family and friends. The movers set up Alexa so Lynne would say, “Alexa, call Dad.” My phone rang and we talked. She liked It. Several times a day she liked it. So did I. She filled in my empty social calendar.
Juan, the Life’s Neighborhood technically skilled activities director, insisted we could do better with a device called Portal, sold by Facebook. Lynne could say, “Portal, call Dad.” She could call every one of her friends on Facebook by using their name. Every one of her Facebook friends could call her on Facebook’s Messenger and it should ring her Portal rooted in her room, compared to her wandering phone. They could Facebook video chat on the portal’s 5” wide screen. I ordered one that seemed to arrive by the time I got down to my mailbox.
Juan installed it and we discovered a nice surprise. The Portal screen has a camera that follows her movement as she roams around the room. That’s an improvement because she disappears from her phone screen during chats.
Wow, did it work on Father’s Day with my son’s family on their patio in Bellingham. Lynne’s sons, Henrik and Simon, joined us. Lynne video chatted with us as the boys walked around to face everyone with their cell phone.
Lynne is video chatting with others. Monday a friend didn’t connect with her on a planned call but Lynne called back on Tuesday via video and they had a wonderful talk. Her friend thinks Lynne saw the call on the Portal screen and pressed her profile face to dial her back. Lynne told me her friend stopped by. Perfect! That is how we hoped it would work.
Nevertheless, Lynne told me Tuesday it doesn’t work. I do not know why. She rarely answers when I call during her active social calendar in the new neighborhood. Eventually I call the concierge to ask a care giver to connect us. They call on Lynne’s phone and I call back on Messenger+. I usually meet an unfamiliar caregiver who is unfamiliar with the Portal. I explain it to the best of my limited knowledge.
I contacted Juan who said he is thinking about different ideas to help Lynne. He agrees the simplest way is call the concierge and ask for help.
Nevertheless, we persist.

Use Care Skills for Loneliness and Dementia from Teepa Snow and Cat Stevens

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Cat Stevens very best songs and lyrics helped Lynne and Dad

Loneliness from isolation causes brain change that appears to speed up the progress of dementia symptoms, according to Teepa Snow, a world famous educator on positive approaches to dementia care www.teepasnow.com. Loneliness brain changes increase chemicals for stress responses and reduces chemicals for mental acuity, immune responses and breathing. Those were the symptoms that worried me during Lynne’s isolation: decreases in acuity to make decisions, remember names, and understand jokes, and increases in anxiety, stress and paranoia.  

Teepa Snow explained these brain changes in a short podcast about loneliness and dementia. Better yet, she recommended practical care behaviors to overcome those declines. It was powerful. She relieved my anxiety  about Lynne’s decline and gave me skills I could use.. They worked.

I used her lessons to create a customized “automobile restorative therapy” to relieve her negative brain change when I drove her to an appointment with her doctor the weekend after she moved in to her apartment. When I picked up, I shared my excitement about Teepa Snow with Curly, the Activities Care Director. He also thinks she is marvelous.

Encouraged, I followed her directions. First, be energetic to uplift her when you greet her. Second, pause, to let her respond with social skills to strengthen synapses idled by loneliness. 

Third, make her laugh watching a funny video of dogs and cats escaping isolation that appeared inescapable.  Fourth play music, Cat Stevens is who she likes, and pause as she sings the lyrics. She started slowly, but increasingly sang more lyrics as she listened to every song over the 20-minute ride. She said she didn’t recognize some of the songs and I didn’t either.

We socialized with staff and her doctor whom she’d known since before she was a mother. I asked both whether she was experiencing menopause and learned that ended years ago. I had no idea. Her doctor is satisfied with the low prescriptions of her antidepressant medications given her likely improvement after isolation.

We walked outside for over a mile in the sunshine to eat frozen yogurt. I reviewed the good news from Teepa Snow that isolation was affecting her depression, memory loss, anxiety, etc. She liked what she heard.

On the way home she listened and sang along with Cat Stevens. She asked, “Is this all Cat Stevens?” She was processing and generalizing. Good synapse exercises.

“ Yes, do you want to switch?” Pause

“No, I like it.” I stayed silent — steeped in a Teepa Snow pause cause.

I told my grandsons so they’d use the skills with their mother, particularly pause.  Her son Simon said, “Yea, did you notice Curly use it when we had the Zoom conference on Sunday?”

He paused. I needed it — I was embarrassed. He was better trained. He plans to be a nurse and has worked in assisted living.

“Do you remember when they logged into the portfolio of participants? Curly pointed to each person on the screen and asked Lynne if she knew who that was. He paused after each one. She named them.”  

I have so much to learn.

By the way, Teepa Snow’s care behaviors helped me, because the brain changes depressing me were the sames brain changes depressing Lynne.  

A Simple Video Chat

Caregiving for video chats sounds deceptively simple with my daughter, Lynne, diagnosed with moderate to severe dementia from Alzheimer’s disease. She’s confined to her small apartment in an assisted living facility under strict precautions due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic, so every day I bring her a note card and schedule a video chat.
I asked for a time from one of the many different people who serve as concierge on the revolving 24/7 shifts. They are now swamped with added procedures daily, including most recently, scanning the forehead of every person entering the building. My request posed no problem. “Let’s check her phone. Is it black or white?”
We keep it at the front desk with her name on it, so we don’t have to search for where Lynne leaves it. I said, “Neither. Her name’s on it.”
“Neither of these has a name.”
“It should be plugged into the flashing pink and white cord to charge it.”
“We have the cord, but it’s not plugged in.”
“It’s probably still in the apartment and needs to be charged.”
“OK, I’ll call and have somebody bring it down. What’s the password? Can I disable it so it’s easier to use?”
“Yes, that would be fine.” I felt foolish. They’ve written it down somewhere, but it’s a constant roadblock for new caregivers. There’s no reason to struggle with it. I’ve emptied her phone of sensitive data. Why didn’t I think of that?

I called the desk at 1:15 pm. The same concierge answered. “I couldn’t disable the password because I needed her thumbprint.”
“She still has her thumb. Have her do it with you.”
“I just wrote in on the phone.”
“That’ll work. That’s the same as disabling the password.” Why didn’t I think of that?
I called her phone. The caregiver answered but couldn’t turn on the video.
I couldn’t help her. Instead I saw a closeup of my 78-year old male face. Awful in a fuzzy video chat screen. Pale skin, wrinkles on my cheeks, big ears, stray eyebrow hairs, droopy eyelids, saggy eye bags, lower lip hanging open. I almost hung up on me.
The caregiver gave up. “I can’t turn on the video. Why don’t we call you?”
“OK, call me. I can turn on my video.
“What’s the password?”
“It’s on the phone.”
She called and I clicked on video. Perfect. My picture shrunk and I saw her beautiful smile under salt and pepper hair streaked with gold. I heard their laughter. The video camera went into constant motion. I saw closeups of her ear, the blonde streaks in her hair, her fingers.
“I don’t need a closeup of your ear.”
“Oh. OK, better?
“Yes, much.” As we talked I saw unobstructed views of Lynne’s smile, her face, her hair, the ceiling, the refrigerator, her shoulder, her ear, her face, cabinet door. At least they weren’t my face.
The screen went dark. I saw a message that she turned off her video.
“You turned off the video.”
“Oh, how do I turn in on?”
“I don’t know.”
The caregiver showed her how to turn it on. Lynne and the caregiver in her white mask peered into the camera before the caregiver left for another call.
“Oh, there you are,” Lynne said. “I can see you again.”
I updated her on how well her sons were doing. She turned it off again. She found the way to switch it back on.
We talked about her brother and sister and nieces. I told her a few days ago I’d yelled up at her open window on the third floor, but she didn’t answer. Next time I’ll try to bounce a pickleball off a window.
She laughed. “Dad,…”
Soon, her voice sounded tired from the effort. “I should go now,” she said.
We hung up. It was a good call.
I couldn’t throw the pickleball at the window because canopies covered the sidewalk to keep people dry and forbid throwing pickleballs at the window. Maybe I’ll get a small drone to fly in her open window to deliver her note card.