Coping with Dementia: Sometimes we just need Magic!
One of the difficulties with dementia care can be that we go into it with a negative attitude. This is understandable. It is terrible disease through which those afflicted slowly lose almost everything they have; physically, mentally, and emotionally. This puts us into a mindset dominated by a focus on loss. We focus on what they CAN’T do, and we even design care and care facilities around what they CAN’T do . . . or soon won’t be able to do.
I encourage care partners to try to shift their thinking, attention, and support to what our loved ones with dementia still CAN do. And sometimes, what they can do is a lot if we will just encourage their efforts.
I’ve written about Mr. Jamieson, whose family considered him useless and nothing but trouble. They left him at a memory care facility where one of the staff discovered that he liked plants. She found that he had an extraordinary ability to bring stressed plants back to life. Soon, there were thriving plants everywhere, causing the whole community to thrive. Other residents loved Mr. Jamieson and responded with joy to his good nature and positive energy.
Then there was Earl, who was practically unable to speak, but could play and sing two verses of a song flawlessly when we placed a guitar in his hands. Like Mr. Jamieson, Earl’s abilities seemed to motivate others with dementia, bringing them joy and brightening their days. He could light up a room with apparent ease.
Focusing on Choosing Abilities over his Disabilities: Meet Allen Klein, The Card Master
But I’ve never seen anything like The Card Master, a magician with dementia whom I recently saw perform at the Friendly Café memory café hosted by the Oxford United Methodist Church in Oxford, Florida. The Card Master is Allen Klein, a former successful businessman whose hobby was card tricks, and who now has dementia. Since they require both manual and mental dexterity, you would think that the ability to do elaborate card tricks would be the first ability someone might lose.
Klein was stunning in his skill and entertaining in his presentation. Everyone was oohing and aahing and roaring with laughter as he baffled them with his funny jokes and slight-of-hand. And he performed almost an hour with each trick seeming to be more baffling and unbelievable than the one before.
But Klein went even a step beyond entertainment when he began to talk seriously about his disease and what was required to cope with it. He told us how prone he was to forget the steps in his tricks and the prompts he devised to compensate for his lapses in memory.
He showed us the checklist that he refers to when he assembles his kit for each performance. He explained this has become necessary because one time he showed up to perform and had forgotten his cards! His audience roared with laughter when he said, “Fortunately, I was at a place that had a deck of cards handy, and maybe it was the best show I’ve ever done because everyone knew I couldn’t possibly be cheating with someone else’s deck of cards.”
I’ve never seen a better example of choosing abilities over disabilities than Allen Klein, The Card Master. He is a man who will simply not give up and let dementia prevail. Yes, his performance will probably become more difficult for him as time goes by, but it is clear that he will find ways to continue to deliver joy and inspiration while he works around the disabilities of dementia.
I would say he is a man who — regardless what cards dementia has dealt him — realizes that the quality of his life is in his own hands. He is a living object lesson that every family living with dementia needs to meet.
Hey, I wonder if I could ask him to warm up the audience with card tricks at every one of my workshops. It would be fun to do that because he is the best, and we all deserve the best.
About Debbie Selsavage
Debbie Selsavage is a Certified Trainer and Consultant in the Positive Approach to Care and a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She authors a monthly column to assist caregivers in coping with Dementia. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC is dedicated to making life better for individuals living with dementia. Contact Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org.