Care Partnering, Inspiration, Love, Music

happy birdday mummy

Mom was born on September 27, 1928. If she were still alive, she would have been 94 today, September 27, 2022.

On her birthday in 2015, her last one here on this earth, I visited her in jail, just as I did almost every day for several hours for four years. Here’s how I greeted her and how she responded:

Mummy is what she called her own mother. The full and wonderful story of what happened on her last birthday may be read at the three posts below (or here, here and here). Not surprisingly, reading them again just now made me cry ❤

it’s better to be queer on your deer than funny on your bunny on your birthday

put a candle on a cupcake and see if you feel as lucky as my mom

love comes in all shapes, sizes and colours including small, furry, and black and white

Care Partnering, Hope, Inspiration, Love

10 important facts i learned about people living with dementia from being my mother’s care partner

My mom (right) and her brother Eddy (left) during one of their last visits together (April 2013). They both lived and died with Alzheimer disease and dementia in their mid eighties.

My mom, who lived with Alzheimer disease, and I were care partners for more than a decade. My care partnering role changed and evolved during that time. When it began, I lived overseas. In 2011, when it became clear she could no longer live on her own, I returned to Canada to live with her in her own home. She was relocated to a nursing home, which I came to call a “dementia jail,” on November 16, 2012. For the next forty-five months I visited Mom for several hours virtually every day.

I didn’t see her on August 11, 2016; I didn’t have the strength that day. But I was by her side for the next six, and I held her hand when she died on August 17, 2016.

Being my mother’s care partner was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was also the most rewarding. I learned so much. I loved so much. I cried countless tears. I wouldn’t trade the journey for anything because I also experienced the deeply spiritual privilege of loving another person unconditionally.

Below are ten important facts I learned during and after the time I spent being my mother’s care partner (I’m still learning!)

People who are living with dementia, no matter what “stage” of the condition they are living with:

  1. are human beings with wants and needs just like the rest of us
  2. have feelings just like the rest of us
  3. have rights just like the rest of us
  4. deserve to be treated with dignity, just as we all should be
  5. are aware of the world around them, even when it seems they might not be
  6. are capable of loving others
  7. deserve to be loved and cared for
  8. can teach us lessons if we are open to learning
  9. are different than us, not less than us
  10. are not “empty shells”

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take off the blindfolds and #BanBPSD: an open letter to the worldwide dementia community

13+ needs we share with people who live with dementia

Hope, Humour, Inspiration, Love

your name is a queen (elizabeth shares a lesson on labelling)

Let it go (it doesn’t matter if they know you or not) is one of’s most shared pieces. When I posted it on Facebook in January 2020, long-time follower Elizabeth Dunbar shared this delightful story:

My dad knew my essence until his last breath. Labeling and putting people in boxes and pigeon holes is a human convention. Other animals recognize each other without knowing relationships or each other’s history. They just accept.

So whether Dad knew my name or my relationship to him or not didn’t matter to me. I remember going away for a few days about a year before he died. When I returned, I bounced into his room as always. He looked quizzical. I realized he didn’t totally remember me, and I gave him permission to do that.

“I know you’re not feeling well enough these days to totally remember me,” I said. “Is it ok to give you a hint?”

He nodded his assent.

“Well I’m the daughter. One of two children you had. I’m the one that talks a lot!” I joked.

He threw his head back and laughed with tears in his eyes.

”Your name: it’s a Queen,” he said.

“Yes, that’s right,” I said. “I’m Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth.”

We both laughed.

This was a simple conversation we had many times after that. Sometimes I think he was lucid and pulling one over on me, because that would be him. I always treated him like he was my dad, and let him know that any forgetting was simply okay.

I love this story. It’s so hopeful and helpful, and speaks to the power of playfulness and going with the flow. Thank you so much Queen Elizabeth Dunbar.

it doesn’t matter if they know you or not

20 great questions to ask when a loved one with dementia doesn’t recognize you anymore

how often do we fail to recognize them?


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Care Partnering, Hope, Inspiration, Joy, Love

5 powerful dementia care lessons i learned being my mom’s care partner

Being my mother’s primary care partner in various ways for ten years was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was ultimately also one of the most rewarding in that it provided me with countless learning opportunities. I’ve blogged before about the joys, the difficult emotions and the lessons I and other dementia care partners have learned; here are five more:

1 ) People are people, not furniture

A changing brain does not suddenly make someone less than human, less what they were before their brain started to change, or less deserving than anyone else. People are people, no matter the condition of their brain, or their body. They have rights, needs and wants, just like the rest of us do. Recognizing and fulfilling those rights, needs and wants are societal and communal responsibilities.

2 ) Stigma destroys the stigmatized

Stigma can be more destructive and devastating to a person’s well being than a terminal illness. Stigma causes many people who live with dementia and the people who care for them to become isolated, sometimes even shunned by family and friends. This isolation is often more damaging to people who live with dementia and their care partners than the condition itself. Changing the way we see dementia and the people who live with it is one of the most powerful ways we can positively impact the well being of those who live with the condition.

3 ) Life is challenging

The challenges we face in life provide opportunities for us to learn, grow and become better people. The challenges of living with dementia and/or being the care partner to someone who lives with dementia are like other life challenges in the sense that they also provide opportunities for us to learn, grow and become the best we can be. It’s up to us to find the opportunities in the challenges we face.

4 ) We are not dead until we die

This seems obvious. Nevertheless, others treat many people who live with dementia as if they are already gone. I believe that treating someone as if they are not here when they still are increases the chances that they will decline at a faster rate. People need attention (via words, deeds and touch) to know they are loved and appreciated. Treating people with love, compassion, understanding and tender care will improve their well-being and boost their ability to thrive, even as they near the end of life.

5 ) Not needing to be recognized increases the chances you will be

When friends and family let go of the need to be recognized by a loved one who lives with dementia, I believe the chances that the person living with dementia will recognize them increases. My theory is unproven and based on my own experience, but I feel strongly that it’s true. When we let go of the need to be recognized, we become more relaxed, more loving, and more open to possibility, all of which impacts those around in a positive way and creates an environment in which positive interactions are more likely to occur.

What lessons have you learned?

top 15 things dementia care partners say they’ve learned

5 Uplifting Emotions Felt by Alzheimers Dementia Care Partners

5 Raw Emotions Alzheimers Dementia Caregivers Feel Every Day

17 links to the “other side” of dementia

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Advocacy, Challenges & Solutions, Inspiration, Toward better care

australian care worker wendy carr proves you can teach an old nurse new tricks

Sometimes I lose hope that dementia care will ever change. It often feels as if we’re going backward instead of forward. Then someone such as Wendy Carr inspires me and renews my hope.

When Wendy began commenting on the My Alzheimer’s Story’s Facebook page in 2018, I was struck by her practical wisdom (see one of her quotes below). It was clear from her comments that she worked in a long-term care facility, and that she was keen to create change. I wanted to know more about her, because we need people like Wendy “on the ground,” changing the system and making a difference in the lives of people who live with dementia in care facilities right now.

I connected with Wendy, and asked her to tell me more about herself; here’s what she wrote:

I was a Registered Nurse (RN), with experience in Theatre, Ophthalmology, Aged Care and Psychiatry. I left work to care for my sister, then my mum, and then, sadly, my husband. They all wanted to die at home, not in a hospital or palliative care setting. We were able to do this with a huge amount of assistance from Little Haven, a not-for-profit we have in my area. It was a privilege for me to care for my family members at home until they died, although it was emotionally very difficult – much more so for me than if they had been in a hospital or care home. For people to die at home is almost taboo here in Australia, so those who wish to go that route have little support. My Welsh background views death differently I think.

‪Because I was out of paid nursing for so long while caring for my family members, I would have had to retake full training to become registered again. Financially, with three children, that was impossible. So I returned to Aged Care as a Nursing Assistant, and was offered a position in the dementia unit. It is brilliant work, albeit at poor wages. One of the things I most appreciate about being a nursing assistant is that it’s the best place to initiate change. I also love the fact that I work so closely with the residents rather than attending to RN duties that often preclude the building of the vitally important relationships with the people we care for. I could return to university now, but I’m having way too much fun in this assistant role.

I work in a large one-hundred-and-sixty bed, purpose-built facility, which is amazing for a small country town in Queensland, Australia. The facility is set in a beautiful bush environment, and is transitioning from a task-oriented to a person-centred care model. Moving to understand the person’s reality is a hard concept for some carers to grasp. Many still believe any and all behaviours are caused by “the dementia” and cannot be altered or understood, so meds or restraints are still “go to” options when staff members are challenged by the behaviour of some residents. Australia has new laws to address the use of chemical and physical restraints in aged care, which is going to be a huge breakthrough. That said, it’s relatively easy to find loop holes. As with most laws, time will tell. I must admit I am impatient with the slow pace of change.

‪I have worked at this centre for seven years. It is a not-for-profit, and doing an amazing job. I prefer working night shifts. Although there is traditionally less staff at night, it can be the best time to build close relationships with residents. Nighttime “behaviours” require a complete reset of our own headspace!

‪In short, person-centred care (or wholistic nursing as I call it), is finally making inroads, and practices are starting to change. I’m old, but I’m so glad this shift is happening because my desire to provide this kind of care is one of the reasons I became a nurse forty years ago.

Your page is so helpful in redefining attitudes especially as you had first-hand experience caring for your mother. You have helped me to realise I’m not completely mad in thinking we can do this better. Together, we can create a more positive experience for people who live with dementia, care workers and family care partners.”

We need more advocates such as Wendy Carr and Joanna LaFleur in dementia care to create new care models from the ground up! Thanks Wendy and Joanna for helping to change the face of dementia care worldwide.

7 ways to improve dementia care in less than three minutes

7 paths to better dementia care

20 paths to dementia care homes away from home

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Challenges & Solutions, Inspiration, Music, Resources, Toward better care

they took away his cutlery and gave him drumsticks – he loved it!

Yes, there are solutions to addressing situations and behaviour that care partners and care workers find challenging. In most cases finding a solution involves thinking out of the box, which is what the staff at this gentleman’s care home did. He wanted to tap and clap, which people around found disturbing. Staff were stumped initially, but then they came up with an innovative solution as shown in the video below.

Here’s the explanation behind the video, which I found on the Center for Applied Dementia Research’s Facebook page:

This is an outstanding application of a “Responsive Behavior” Assessment. Our partners at Mt. Bachelor Memory Care sent us this video with the following message: “This individual has a habit of clapping his hands or rapidly tapping silverware on the table. Staff were making him wear gloves and taking his silverware away and replacing it with plastic, this caused him to disengage. I worked with the team using the form and this is what we came up.” [Shared with permission]

The innovative team at Mt. Bachelor looked at an individual’s behavior, understood it as a response to a need, and found an alternative to meet that need which is appropriate and meaningful. Rather than allowing the person to retreat or disconnect, they adapted the environment to everyone’s benefit. Well done!

Frontier Management‘s Mt. Bachelor Memory Care is a Gold Credentialed Montessori Inspired Lifestyle Community in Bend, OR. The commitment and care shown here demonstrates why they deserve that award.

The “form” they refer to above was developed by the Center for Applied Dementia Research, and is part of their training in the Montessori approach to dementia care.

101 activities you can enjoy with a person living with alzheimers dementia

5 things I never knew until I sang with my alzheimer mom

10 tips to make the most of music in dementia care

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Advocacy, Inspiration, Life & Living

7 powerful thoughts on the resilience brilliance of elders and people living with dementia

“The elders in our lives teach us so much and I just keep trying to pay attention,” wrote Sonya Barsness in reply to my comment on her blog post entitled “Resilience.”

Barsness calls herself a “revisionist gerontologist.”  Like me, she believes we need to change the paradigms surrounding aging and dementia. Her work revolves around “promoting and applying a paradigm shift to everything we do WITH people growing older and growing with dementia.”

I’m an avid reader of her blog “Being Heard,” and was blown away by the post on resilience. After I read it, I commented:

“This post is breathtaking Sonya. It puts into words what I observed being with my mom during the last five years of her life while she lived with dementia. I called it strength. “You are so strong, Mom,” I would say to her. Or, “You are so brave, Mom.” Yes, she was strong, and yes, she was brave. But you are dead right about resilience. Above all, Mom was resilient beyond belief. Thank you for reframing it so eloquently.”

I extracted these seven powerful thoughts from the post to whet your appetite:

1) We often use the term “frail” to describe elders. Yet, it does not properly acknowledge the resilience that older people show on a regular basis, in various ways.

2) …people living in nursing homes, people living with dementia, people who are not 98-year old weightlifters are also resilient, [although it could be in a way we might not easily see].

3) Elders are experts at being resilient. Perhaps this is true by the very nature of acquiring more life experiences through growing older – there simply are more opportunities to be resilient. Perhaps it is also due to the unique challenges and opportunities in “being old” that encourages resilience.

4) [Consider] the resilience of the present: how a person shows up every day. Perhaps elders are particularly resilient because of what they have experienced, as well as resilient for what they are experiencing now, and will experience [in the future].

5) Could their resilience be in each breath they take, in how they are living in the world, yet leaving it? Could their resilience be in their gifts to us about the fragility of life, and the reality of death?

6) There is resilience in living with the cognitive changes of dementia. As a person sees the world differently through the experience of dementia, they try to make sense of it. They are problem-solvers, rather than how we often label them as problem-makers.

7) Through their courage and resilience elders [and people living with dementia] are revealing to us how to navigate some of the most fundamental and pure human experiences.

I encourage you to read the whole post here. You may also wish to read the inspiring posts below.

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Advocacy, Inspiration, Life & Living, Love

imagine how much suffering could be spared!

My friend Lorrie B. is an amazing writer, editor, translator and primary care partner to her parents, both of whom live with dementia. Lorrie is also an insightful blogger who documents her care partnering experiences here:

Like me, Lorrie is also insatiably curious, and, since becoming her parents primary care partner, has done extensive research related to dementia (as have I!). Despite having read reams and reams of dementia-related stuff, Lorrie and I agree the article referenced in this post is one of the best we’ve come across on living with dementia. Lorrie left this comment:

Wow. I’m with you, Susan, this is one of the best articles about “living with dementia” that I’ve read in the past three years of scouring the media. Such a beautiful and valuable perspective, level-headed and lyrical. I saw both my parents in many of the instances that she mentions – if we had more of this thinking, imagine how much suffering could be spared! Honestly, if people with dementia can teach us to think more with our hearts than our heads, it would benefit everyone to be in their world and feel the power of love beyond the brain. Thank you so much for finding and sharing this.

Lorrie’s with me and I’m with her – we’ll all benefit and suffer way less when we feel the power of love beyond the brain.

You said it Lorrie B.!

#FightTheGoodFight #WeCanCareBetter


you said it!” is a place to discover informed comments, inspiring thoughts, short stories, good ideas, provocative opinions, quotable quotes and noteworthy snippets from across my worldwide network.


One of Lorrie B.’s blog posts: Lesson #29: Hope Springs a Kernel

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Advocacy, Inspiration, Life & Living, Love

3 excerpts from the best article on dementia i have ever read (and a link to the full meal deal)

Sometimes you come across something that captures everything you want to say so brilliantly that it literally takes your breath away, and makes you weep in gratitude.

Sallie Tisdale’s article Out of time: the un-becoming of self, in the March 2018 issue of Harper’s Magazine, is one of those somethings. It says in five pages what I have tried to articulate in the more than 600 pages on this blog, in workshops, webinars, conversations and comments, with mixed success as best. Yet Tisdale does it beautifully, succinctly and poetically.

Here are three important excerpts from her compelling piece:

“The stark fact is that dementia is incurable, progressive, and fatal, but here is the surprise: in the company of [people who live with dementia], one finds peace and unquestioned love in at least as much measure as in the rest of the world. I watch my clients navigate each day’s puzzling details. I know their efforts may look to many observers like an embarrassment of loss. I see the riches: the brave, vulnerable, completely human work of figuring things out. People with dementia sometimes have a rare entrancement with their surroundings, a simplicity of perception, a sense of wonder. Being with a person who has dementia is not that different from being with a person who doesn’t share your language. It is a little like talking to someone who has lost her tongue and cannot speak, has lost his hands and cannot write. This is not a bad thing; it is just a different thing. It requires a different kind of attention.”


“The fact that my own me-ness persists is obvious, and yet a persistence of identity is one of the last things we expect with [people who live with dementia]. They seem different to us; mustn’t they be different to themselves? The spate of recent research considering how a person with dementia actually feels tells us no, not really. People know they have a memory impairment, but they feel themselves to be the same person, even in late stages of the disease: “I’m like a slow-motion version of my old self,” says someone with dementia. The possibility of pleasure, let alone contentment, for this person is barely acknowledged. A team of researchers called our current vision of dementia the tragedy discourse. Another group notes that most researchers have shown “a stark disinterest in happiness,” and their assumption of distress is because that is “the only available lexicon for experience, the only available lens through which dementia is viewed.” Surveys have found that Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, and cancer are the diseases that people fear the most. The communal response to dementia seems to invite only existential despair.”


“Yet people with Alzheimer’s consistently rate their quality of life higher than their family members do. In a large international study, people with cognitive impairments were no less happy than healthy people. When family members are upset about a relative’s decline, certain it is a terrible experience, they are not always clear on who is suffering. My friend Kate’s mother had Alzheimer’s. She had always worn careful makeup, and she was uncomfortable leaving the house without it. But her makeup became exaggerated, almost clownish, and she refused Kate’s help. Looking in the mirror, she liked what she saw. Going out to a restaurant became, for Kate, “an exercise in my own discomfort, being willing to let her be as she was.”

The full article is here. I strongly encourage you to read it.

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Advocacy, Inspiration, Life & Living, Music, Videos

the #CMAHealthSummit jam band featuring @Cmdr_Hadfield on guitar & vocals

It may seem like this post has nothing to do with dementia care advocacy, but it does, trust me. All will be revealed in the fullness of time…

In the meantime, enjoy former astronaut turned author and inspirational speaker Commander Chris Hadfield (on guitar & vocals) as he covers Piano Man with family physician Dr. Jeff Dresselhuis (on keyboards) and the #CMASummit2018 “jam band.”

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