Monday, August 4, 2014

Alive Inside: new hope for Alzheimer’s patients

Many of you know that Alzheimer’s research and care is a subject close to my heart.

Last night we saw a moving and inspiring documentary film, Alive Inside. It profiles a social worker who uses music to help patients with Alzheimer’s disease reconnect with the world. A complete review of the film can be found here.

The social worker, Dan Cohen, has founded a nonprofit agency called Music and Memory. He visits nursing home patients and provides them with iPods programmed with their favorite music, music they had loved and remembered from their younger days.

The transformation is stunning. A man who could barely speak and only answered “Yes” or “No” questions begins listening to music he had loved all his life. His eyes grow huge; he begins to sway and tap to the music and soon becomes articulate, talking about what music means to him and how much he loves it.

A woman with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia gets up without the support of her cane and begins to dance with Cohen.

(Photo from "Alive Inside: A Story of Memory and Music")

Two women with dementia who are being cared for by their husbands are provided with personalized music. They dance and sing along and begin to retrieve memories that had been lost. They have been able to stay in their own homes longer because of the positive effect the music has had on them.

The film brought tears to my eyes many times, remembering my mother and those she lived with at her facility. There was a man who had once been a musician with a wonderful singing voice but who now could barely speak. Yet at times he would spontaneously break into a song. The unit, staff, and visitors would be transfixed listening to him sing his favorites: the hymn “How Great Thou Art” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” He remembered every word.

When my husband and I have gone Christmas caroling at nursing homes, we’ve seen first hand how people with dementia react. Some who look as though they are disconnected from the world will tap their fingers or nod their heads, even sing along with us. Many of them have tears in their eyes. When we’ve finished they grasp our hands and thank us so heartily for being there.

The neurologist Oliver Sacks appears in the film, explaining that the parts of the brain that process music are left untouched much longer than other areas by the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s. Music that is familiar to and loved by the person reaches not only that part of the brain but also his or her very soul.

We’ve all experienced the power of music to affect our emotions and our memories. We all have special songs that take us back to particular places, times, events in our lives. But have we ever thought that a person with almost complete obliteration of memory could be affected in the same way?

The film also shows the frustrations Cohen has had to deal with in trying to find ways to bring his program to more people. He complains that millions of dollars are spent on medications that are often ineffective, yet very few people—not just government agencies but even administrators of nursing homes themselves—are willing to put faith and money into a program like this that produces such measurable and just about universal results. Because of his film, though, things are beginning to change, and he has been able to reach an increasing number of facilities with his simple and effective method.

This is a important film that should be widely distributed and widely seen. That may not happen through the conventional network of movie theaters; we saw it in a small art-film house that we’re lucky to have here in Providence. Fortunately, it will be on iTunes and on Netflix and DVD in October. I hope it will inspire much faster and wider adoption of this program.

In the meantime, this might provide a way for those of us who have a loved one in care for Alzheimer’s or dementia to make a real difference in our loved ones’ lives.
Program an iPod with your loved one’s favorite music and bring it to him or her with a pair of headphones.

See if it makes a difference in his or her alertness and attitude. See if a person who becomes easily agitated will calm down. See if a person who is passive and nonverbal will “awaken” and show some response.

Music and Memory needs donations: of used iPods or of cash for iPods or to pay for the music to put on them. The page for donations can be found here

I'd be really happy if any of you who read this will share it on Facebook and other social media so that as many people as possible can learn about this marvelous and hopeful program. Thanks to you all for reading and caring.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors


Once again I’m taking part in the Weekend Writing Warriors Snippet Sunday. Here are eight sentences from my novel-in-progress, A Certain Shade of Blue. In my previous snippet, six-year-old Claire was awakened by her baby brother’s crying, then by a scream. This snippet follows. Comments and suggestions are welcome. Thanks!

She sees her mother leaning on her father by Toby’s crib, half drooping, he trying to support her, hold her up, like trying to hold water. The sounds coming from her mother’s mouth are unearthly, frightening. A shocked, scared hiccuping noise rises from the child’s own throat. Her father looks up. Claire, go back to bed, his voice cracks. What’s the matter, Daddy? Just go back to your room, he says. She runs back, collapses into her bed, and curls up under the covers, shaking.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Gratitude/Happiness List  ▪ Week of July 21, 2014

Joining with Laurel Regan’s Gratitude linkup at Alphabet Salad. 
Here are some things I’m grateful for and that make me happy this week.

First and foremost, getting the cast off my wrist. It doesn’t feel perfect yet; I still have to wear a brace at least till I start therapy on Thursday, but I feel so much freer.

Having a short story accepted by Relief Journal for their next issue.

That I was patient when the journal took seemingly forever to reply. I was on the verge of withdrawing the story and submitting it to a strictly online journal, but I really, really wanted to keep trying to get it into a print publication. When their acceptance finally came, they apologized, saying they had been looking for a new fiction editor and finally found one. My patience paid off!

The support of friends and family while I was recuperating from surgery.

Receiving a lovely gift of flowers from a friend (thank you, Amy Morgan!)

Having the opportunity to guest post on Laurel Regan’s Alphabet Salad while she’s away at the BlogHer conference.

To once again be able to take a shower without covering my hand in plastic bags and to actually wash with my right hand. To be able to eat normally again (“normally” for a right-handed person, that is).

Lots of reading time over the past week and this one. I’ve finished five books so far.

Although I am normally a heat lover, I’m grateful that the recent weather was a little cool for July so that I wasn’t sweaty and itchy under my cast.

My husband’s thoughtfulness and support in taking two days off from work to take me for my surgery and to bring me to the doctor for my follow-up, as I couldn’t drive with the cast on.

Getting a professional shampoo and cut while my wrist is healing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Menopause: A Scientific Experiment


Now, please. Do you see this circle on the floor? Please step inside it. Good.

Now we’re going to set the circle on fire, and see:

How long before you take off your jacket, your sweater?

How long before you roll up the sleeves of your shirt, open it at the collar?

How long before your forehead, your torso, break into sweat?

Time check time check time check…excellent.

Thank you for your cooperation. And for your participation in this experiment, you receive this certificate of initiation: you are officially menopausal.

The culmination  of some thirty-, forty-odd years of monthly pain and bleeding.

Oh, and we must warn you that what you experienced today will come back,

six or seven or eight times a day,

we can’t say for how many years,

but when it stops you will be too old to enjoy the freedom,

perhaps bent with arthritis, osteoporosis.

Congratulations. You are a creature of blood and fire.

You are a woman.



Thursday, July 10, 2014


One of the most civilized British customs to have made it to this side of the pond is the Afternoon Tea. It seems we Americans are finally catching on to this little luxury, and tearooms are beginning to spring up in unexpected places, even here in Rhode Island.

After a quick Google search, I found the following in our local area. Most of these serve tea, small sandwiches and/or crepes, and desserts. 





And in nearby Connecticut:

These places have formal afternoon tea services and often require reservations. There are also places where you can just have tea and some pastry at any time, such as Tealuxe.

 As a longtime tea lover and Anglophile, I love this trend and hope it grows. If you also love tea, British customs, and/or islands of elegance in hectic everyday life, check out your own area for tearooms, and lift a cup to a lovely throwback to another century!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Chaim Potok once wrote, “All beginnings are hard.”

I’m not so sure that’s true.

I’ve rarely had trouble beginning things. The harder part, for me, is continuing. The harder part is taking that next step after the first. That’s the one that requires commitment and perseverance.

When you start a project in crochet, you need to begin with a foundation chain. It isn’t difficult to learn, but it can be tricky, even when you’re experienced at it--for instance, keeping your tension even so that your loops all come out the same size. But it’s the second row that many beginning crocheters have the most trouble with. For this row you need to work a stitch into each of the loops in the starting chain. The first trouble spot will arise right away if you haven’t made the starting chain loose enough: trying to work the hook into each loop. You also need to keep the chain itself from twisting so that you’re always working into the front of the loop. Step 2 is quite a challenge for the newbie.



Novelist Ann Hood, writing about learning to knit, called herself a “good beginner.” And, in fact, it isn’t always how long you’ve been doing something that determines whether you’re a beginner, because in a sense we’re always beginners as long as we’re always learning.

I’ve come up with some things I feel I’m a “perpetual beginner” at.

I am:

  a beginning runner

a beginning crocheter

a beginning writer

a beginning bike rider

a beginning digital photographer

I don’t feel I’m denigrating myself by calling myself a beginner at all these things.  It’s kind of like being a perpetual student, which I always thought I was. It’s acknowledging that there’s always more to learn, always higher levels to get to. Unless it’s the thing you earn your living at, in which mastery is necessary, it’s okay to remain a beginner in some things. In fact, it rather keeps things interesting and challenging—and challenges are good for the mind. They keep us from getting complacent and stagnant.

Not to suggest that I’ve never made any progress in anything. I have become a better editor, which is how I make my living. When I was bowling, I got better and better and raised my average considerably. I’ve progressed from walking to jogging to being able to run a 6.2-mile race. As a student I earned two degrees. As a writer I’ve had a few publications and am continuously working on a novel.

I take some pride in these accomplishments, but I don’t feel I need to be perfect at everything I like to do. Whatever level we reach in any activity depends on a lot of things: our interest, our ability, the time we have to put into practicing it, our willingness to commit.

But it’s never a “mistake” to have begun something new and not continued.

It isn’t failure if we decide it’s not for us.

It isn’t failure if we keep on doing it at one level if we’re enjoying it at that level.

We don’t all have to be competers, even with ourselves.

It’s okay to be a beginner!
What things do you consider yourself a "beginner" at?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Gratitude/Happiness List (Week of July 6)

Joining with Laurel Regan’s Gratitude linkup at Alphabet Salad. 
Here are some things I’m grateful for and that make me happy at this point in time.

  Modern medicine. My upcoming surgery will be outpatient and will be quick; recovery time is approximately ten days. Not fun, but much, much better than it used to be!

That filmmakers are still making independent films that are intelligent and thought-provoking and not designed to be Big Box Office.

That there are still theaters dedicated to running these independent films, and that we have two of them in Providence.

● Meeting our new neighbors and finding them a nice, friendly midlife couple with 13-year-old twins and a huge dog!

The wisdom and courage of the founders of our country, who put their lives on the line for freedom.

Sleepytime tea.

● Having curbside garbage and recycling pickup, unlike some other states where people have to bring their own recycling to a center.

Having adopted our dog, Honey, four years ago.

Good, supportive friends.

● Fresh strawberries and blueberries.

Friday’s torrential rain holding off long enough for Tim and me to do a road race in the morning.

A lovely Fourth of July weekend with a PawSox game, a free pops concert and fireworks on the waterfront, and lots of walking!

● The possibility (fingers crossed!) that we might have found a buyer for our other house.