Center on Aging hosts annual Personhood and Dementia event

Gary Glazner cheers with the audience for the Personhood and Dementia event at the Bluemont Hotel in Manhattan, Kan. on Nov. 2, 2017. (Photo by Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State Center on Aging in the College of Human Ecology hosted its annual Personhood and Dementia event Thursday at the Bluemont Hotel.

The purpose of the event was to educate the public on how to improve the quality of life for elderly people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s through painting, sculpting, dancing and singing.

Gary Glazner, an expert in Alzheimer’s care who has been in practice for over 20 years, led the event. During the singing portion of the event, Glazner led the audience in a series of calls and responses. He explained that singing is effective in Alzheimer’s patients, as it has a “priming effect” on their brains, focusing in on lyrics and rhythms.

Singing is one activity in a range of “non-pharmaceutical interventions” used to alleviate the isolating effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s, Glazner said.

“You can imagine that living in an assisted living center, there’s elements of loneliness and times of the day where you’re not really interacting with someone,” Glazner said. “There’s boredom, fatigue, and those can be real issues to some [patients]. Then you come in with these activities and you get to engage with people. They get to be spontaneous. They get to engage with people and they get to recite poems, create artwork, sing songs, or dance and suddenly you’re not so aware of the time passing.”

Glazner went on to tell the story of an Alzheimer’s patient he worked with: Norman, who loves to sing Frank Sinatra.

“Whenever we sing ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ the moment we sing ‘Moon,’ he knows that’s his cue to start singing,” Glazner said. “And then he sings it spontaneously, and everyone follows along and starts singing with him. It’s evidence that he’s creating new memories and that he’s creating new experiences. Norm has also changed some of the lyrics in the song. When it gets to ‘darling kiss me,’ he says ‘don’t you kiss me,’ and he wags his finger. That’s evidence that he’s created a joke.”

Deborah Murray, instructor and director at K-State’s Writing Center, attended the event. Her mother died after suffering from Alzheimer’s. Murray wrote a play about her experiences caring for her mother called “Numb and Number.”

“When dealing with an Alzheimer’s patient, it can be difficult and sometimes you’d rather feel numb about the experience than anything else,” Murray said.

Murray, who occasionally works with the elderly at Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community, said she was glad to learn about “new approaches to being creative when working with those suffering from illness, and a new way to approach life more creatively.”

Several students attended the event for their gerontology class, including Abby Whitney, freshman in kinesiology.

“Gerontology is a growing field,” Whitney said. “More people should become involved.”