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Serenity For Seniors

An aquarium stocked with colorful tropical fish does the trick.

Happiness is watching the pretty things go by – and these seniors were full of eager anticipation as they watched me set up an aquarium at their day care center. Their faces lit up when I released into the once neglected tank, dozens of tiny fish – brilliantly hued neon tetras flitting merrily with multi-colored guppies.

All it took to transform the tank were a few packets of gravel, a dozen aquatic plants, a filter pump, an under-gravel air stone, and an overhead light. And, a deft eye and hand to place the entire lot in a pleasing arrangement. Half-a-day’s work and hey presto, the magic of an undersea world was up and running… adding new life literally to the recreational needs of the center’s seniors.

Mrs. Richards (not her real name), who is 95, likes to spend a few minutes each day watching the fish, especially when they rush to the surface during feeding time. “They are so beautiful… I see they have been growing slowly, but steadily, over the last few weeks.”

Watching the fish in an aquarium brings her a sense of serenity, says Mrs. Richards.

Some dental clinics have taken to placing aquariums in their waiting area. Watching the fish can be effective in reducing anxiety in patients awaiting dental surgery, according to medical studies.

This is especially true in elderly patients who experience reduced muscle tension and lowered pulse rate after watching the fish before going in for treatment.

Sure, maintaining the cleanliness of the aquarium and making sure the water is balanced for the well-being of the fish, can be hard work, in addition to making sure that they are fed regularly.

Fish can also get distressed when the water gets too hot or too cold, or if there is not enough light.

But the effort to maintain the aquarium is worth the while, especially when it brings benefits – the calming effect and a feeling of serenity that it bestows on elderly people when time hangs heavy on their hands.

A Purdue study in 2009 shows that aquariums had a good influence on the nutritional intake of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Patients exposed to the aquaria averaged an increase of 17.2 per cent in the amount of food they consumed. Weight also increased significantly, and the patients required fewer nutritional supplements.

In addition to the nutritional benefits, there was also a noticeable decrease in physically aggressive behaviors among the patients.

Feng shui advocates also say that moving water is considered beneficial in balancing “chi”, and a well maintained aquarium in the right location increases wealth and luck.

What next? Perhaps a koi pond in the open area outside the day care room, where flowering plants already abound. Seniors sitting around a koi pond may well feel refreshed as they enjoy a spot of sunshine, watching the graceful sight of swimming koi.

Digital Dementia: The Silent Effects of Technology

We have plenty to owe to the effects of technology. Without it, we’d probably be still sending each other messages by pigeons. However, overusing these digital devices that we’ve come to love and adore can also bring about dire consequences, which includes digital dementia.

If you’ve never heard of digital dementia or what exactly it entails, you don’t have to worry. We talked to Dr. Judy Lee from Wellness of Life Chiropractic to run you through the nitty gritty details of this growing health epidemic.

What is Digital Dementia?

The term “digital dementia” was first coined in 2012, from a book published by a German neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer. He describes it as a worrying trend on “how overuse of digital technology is resulting in the breakdown of cognitive abilities” comparing the symptoms to those of head injuries or psychiatric disorders.

What Causes Digital Dementia?

An online community dedicated to Alzheimer’s has described digital dementia as when a person develops a heavy reliance on their electronic devices. By limiting your memorizing of information with modern technology, this will hamper the development of the right side of your brain. As this houses your creative and imaginative thought processes, this will lead to mental deficiencies such as inattentiveness, short memory span, and depression.

Other than that, the American Posture Institute believes the prolonged periods of looking down on your screen will cause you to have a dominant flexor posture, where your shoulders and head are slumped forward in a C-shape. This posture will potentially lead to a cerebral dysfunction in the long term, which restricts the blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain and contributing to the symptoms of digital dementia.

Who Usually Suffers from Digital Dementia?

Adults who have had too much screen time, youngsters engrossed with their entertainment system, or even children who toy around with their parents’ mobile devices are all at similar risk of developing digital dementia.

“The more time a person spends staring at an electronic screen,” Dr. Lee explained, “the higher their chance of suffering from postural distortions and nervous system imbalances in the long run.”

Many of us are unaware of digital dementia and how it comes about with the effect of technology

What Are the Early Symptoms of Digital Dementia?

Early symptoms of digital dementia include deterioration in mental capacity, including memory, concentration and attention span. Individuals may find themselves in difficulty to recall number patterns, directions or even names.

Early symptoms of digital dementia include deterioration in mental capacity, including memory, concentration and attention span. Individuals may find themselves in difficulty to recall number patterns, directions or even names.

In other cases, they might exhibit postural disorders, such as the forward head posture, where the head is passively slumped forward due to them looking down at their mobile screens for extended durations.

“These symptoms, while minor at first, can develop into something much more serious over time as they age,” Dr. Lee explained. “The progressive condition can bring about a range of degenerative mental effects, such as a lack of motivation, coordination and social seclusion.”

How to Reduce the Risk of Digital Dementia?

By significantly reducing the time spent on electronic devices, individuals can cut down on their chances of falling victim to digital dementia.

Dr. Lee also advised in delaying the introduction of technology to young children, as it will prove useful in preventing an early onset of developmental issues and cognitive decline when they grow.

“Lastly, by identifying and correcting any underlying postural disorders can help reduce the risk of digital dementia,” she added. Postural disorders include hunching, slouching or a swayed back.

Is There a Cure for Digital Dementia?

Fortunately, digital dementia isn’t something that’s permanent. However, an affected individual must adopt an active role in both prevention and control should they wish to combat the disease.

“If possible, try to visit the library to gather needed information instead of relying on the Internet,” Dr. Lee advised. “You can also pick up a few physical exercises to promote good body health and improve your blood flow.”

“Of course, there will be times that avoiding the effects of technology will be near impossible with our current work environment,” she commented. “In that case, consider taking breaks in between to stretch your legs and let your brain work a little on something else.”

However, should you feel that your condition is something that won’t be simply cured by a few lifestyle changes, Dr. Lee highly recommends visiting a chiropractor to get your posture checked.

“Postural distortions are often connected to problems with our nervous system functions, including digital dementia,” she shared. “Correcting these can be vital in improving your overall nervous system and brain health.”

The 4 Common Types of Dementia

Did you know that dementia is not one disease, but a name for many different brain diseases?

Before the late 1800s, dementia was an umbrella term for many types of unrelated mental illnesses, and there was very little medical understanding from ancient times. The haphazard developments in medical knowledge in this field are why we have many different conditions, lumped under one word. It is an unfortunate legacy, especially when combined with the social stigma and the wrongful association with natural aging.

Today, medical research endeavor to unravel the intricate web of dementia so we can have a better understanding of these diseases, in the hope of prevention and one day – a cure. Though there are many types of dementia, the most common ones are Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Disease Association.

1. Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s is a “type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, behavioral and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life”, according to Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s disease makes up some 50%-70% of dementia cases – there is a clear organic process of deterioration. The early symptoms of Alzheimer’s are difficulty remembering recent conversations, names or events, as well as apathy and depression. As it progresses, symptoms include impaired communication, poor judgment, disorientation, confusion, behavior changes and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.


What are the common types of dementia?

2. Vascular dementia/ Multi-infarct dementia

Previously known as post-stroke or multi-infarct dementia, vascular dementia is caused by problems in the brain’s blood supply, often after a series of strokes or bleeding in the brain. The location, number, and size of the brain injury determine how the individual’s thinking and physical functioning are affected. The early symptoms of vascular dementia are impaired judgment or ability to make decisions, plan or organize. Memory loss is not a common initial-stage symptom in people with vascular dementia as it is in people with Alzheimer’s.

3. Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)

DLB is a type of “progressive dementia that leads to a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent function because of abnormal microscopic deposits that damage brain cells over time”, as per Alzheimer’s Association. Medical science doesn’t know what causes DLB, but it is specific enough – there is cognitive decline and can only be confirmed by a post-mortem brain histology that shows Lewy bodies in the neurons. People with DLB often have early symptoms such as sleep disturbances, well-formed visual hallucinations, slowness, gait imbalance or other parkinsonian movement traits. Memory loss and thinking problems are also common symptoms in DLB as it is in Alzheimer’s.

4. Parkinson’s disease dementia/ Mixed Dementia

Alzheimer’s Association explains Parkinson’s disease dementia as an “impairment in thinking and reasoning that begins in a region that plays a key role in movement”. Changes in the brain gradually spread and initially affect mental functions, including memory and the ability to pay attention, make sound judgments and plan the steps needed to complete a task. An estimated 50 to 80 percent of those with Parkinson’s eventually experience dementia as their disease progresses, according to Alzheimer’s Association. The average time from onset of Parkinson’s to developing dementia is about 10 years. If dementia develops, symptoms are often similar to dementia with Lewy bodies.

Mentioned above are only some of the common types of dementia, and up-to-date there are over nine types discovered. As different types of dementia can have similar overlapping symptoms, it may be difficult to diagnose dementia just by the symptoms alone. Take note of the signs and early symptoms of dementia. People with deterioration in cognition and personality should seek medical help upon the onset of symptoms. Alzheimer’s Disease Association offers help through programs and support services for patients and their families.

Keep Calm and Be Mindful? Part Two

Self-compassion: can I be kind to myself?

As M. Scott Peck, author of the New York Times bestseller The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth said, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Naturally, this sounds a lot easier to accept in print than reality but alongside my attempts to be more mindful on a daily basis, I have found self-compassion the most crucial and empowering in understanding and accepting that life is hard, so we should not be harder on ourselves.

I do believe that we are often our best and worst critics, and at times we may take tough love a bit too far when we are too quick to judge and even condemn ourselves for our thoughts and actions. The result – a somewhat downward spiral emotionally and spiritually that yields no good for anyone. Let’s face it, everyone has different stressors in life but that is no reason for us to forget to be kind to ourselves.

I have observed that while many people openly promote consideration and compassion for others, more can be done to start with ourselves by being less unkind in our choices of words used and be slower to label our actions and inner thoughts. Even though we think that others don’t hear them, our minds and bodies are conditioned by the way we frame our thoughts so let’s do ourselves a favor and practice some self-kindness. This could take the form of simple steps such as:

  • Saying something kind to yourself each day when looking into the mirror or walking on the way to work or home.
  • Penning a few encouraging words in a journal or in the notes section of your handphone and reflecting on them afterward in between breaks.
  • Keeping a ‘happy box’ of memories comprising compliments and kind words others have shared about you over time and looking through them once in awhile. This may seem a tad bizarre but it does wonders for your soul (provided it does not become self-infatuation). I am an old school so I keep a physical box of cards and handwritten notes sent to me over the years for old times’ sake. Recently, I’ve progressed to snapping pictures of them before they fade away and that way I get to keep them handy on my phone too. If you prefer, you can start by keeping screenshots of encouraging and kind text messages that someone sent as well.

‘Mindfulness is practiced non-judgementally’

“Expectations just keep getting higher, you just need to manage them.” I first heard this comment 17 years ago and it keeps resonating with me because there is no denying this, especially when people are involved or should I say especially when the family is involved.

Where expectations exist, judgment almost follows immediately – it is such a reflex instinct that seeps into our daily lives without us even paying close attention to it.

I struggle the most with this aspect of mindfulness because I am prolific in judging everyone around me and I genuinely believed that others were doing the same to me so it’s just the way the world worked. However, as time passed, this habit became toxic and I needed to do something about it, fast.

This whole business about expectations spiraling was a double-edged sword and it hit me only after I lost a loved one in my life. Suddenly, I blamed everyone around me for not showing enough help, concern, and support during this lowest point in my life and I criminalized them for what they did or did not do and even what I assumed they thought. Secretly, I had become a travel agent for guilt trips and it became so painful facing them when I had so much bitterness. It also did not help when other family members joined the ride adding spice to make things worse.

Eventually, it took me close to three months to ease out of the pain and talk to a friend about all this judgment I was inflicting on my family, my friends and myself. I realized that:

  • Expecting anything from anyone can do more harm than good: in general, I found this a handy reminder. It is always so much more meaningful and gratifying to receive offers of help or concern when you don’t or least expect it. Instead, setting expectations on friends and family may get you more disappointed and worn out. I am certain that I have let people down before so why should I judge them more than I was ready for?
  • The beauty of the earlier point is the fact that you can apply it to yourself as well: as long as you feel genuinely happy doing something for someone else, go right ahead and if you don’t, then free yourself from the fear of being judged by others. This is truly liberating as it gives you the option to respond rather than living up to expectations, imagined or otherwise.
  • Being open in using the disclaimer “please don’t judge me for xxx” can be a useful lead in conversations with others. This has become a common catchphrase among close friends when we share certain stereotype views or deep-seated beliefs that most people are generally not comfortable discussing openly. I have found that this gives people a sense of assurance as a conversation starter and if anything, it encourages an open dialogue, tilting the attention more towards safe sharing rather than hasty judgments.

‘Mindfulness is knowing what is on your mind’: especially when you’re stressed

“How am I supposed to know what’s on your mind?”

I have known many people who wished they could read minds – but alas that special power continues to elude us. But we could start with something more tangible by getting to know our own mind a little better ☺ Knowing one’s mind takes more than intuition to simply decipher matters of the mind as we evolve over time. To make things more challenging, stress complicates and often clouds our minds. Some of the ways I have tried to obtain greater clarity of mind are:

  • Putting the “ME” in Meditating: I have to admit that I fell asleep rather often as I tried meditating so I needed to find another way of spending this alone time with myself. So, I adapted it and chose to verbalize my thoughts in a quiet space on my own. This was a lot more useful to concentrate on my key thoughts and developing a comfort level to speak my mind.
  • Seeking my center: now and then, I need some time away from everyone just to be alone and be with my thoughts while doing simple activities. For some of my friends, trekking does wonders as the natural setting is so serene that it conditions them to spend time with their own minds and focus on getting from one point to another. For me, it’s a hybrid between window shopping and people watching. For some strange reason, these two activities provide an ideal context for me to calm down and collect my thoughts as I observed who and what was around me.
  • Penning it all down into words: this works for me since I’m a journal enthusiast so it all comes down to putting my thoughts into words, especially when I am stressed. It helps me develop a comprehensive discussion with my thoughts while considering some realistic solutions to reduce the stressors. More importantly, it makes for really authentic reading on hindsight.

Is Mindfulness the Way To Go?

I believe it is and after seven months of living in moments of mindfulness, I am a lot calmer and appreciative of this state of awareness. Given my personality and passion for life and people, mindfulness takes me a step closer to helping myself before I attempt to help others as an educator, communications practitioner, and just a fellow human being.

So go ahead, have fun on this journey of awareness and be mindful of how you evolve as a person.

If you are still keen to find out more about mindfulness, you may want to check out these resources as well – I know I will be!

Keep Calm and Be Mindful? Part One

Quit Telling Me to Keep Calm….I’m Mindful of It!

I’m hardly a fan of these ubiquitous ‘Keep Calm’ posters, just because you see them almost everywhere and almost anything goes after the first two words. Or maybe it is because I have an aversion to the words “keep calm”. The reason is simple.

It gets personal, almost always when people around me start telling me to be calm when I’m about to explode or implode. The well-meaning colleagues, friends and loved ones around me have been sensitized to my moods, dislikes and can easily spot how my temper gets ignited. I am not going to deny it – my temper is not high (but it is seeing better days now). And the toughest part of it all is that I am caught between showing my anger and concealing it, simply because I worry about how others view and judge me. So either way, it seems like I faced a losing battle for a long time.

Sometime last year, my close friend Erin mentioned that she was pursuing a Masters of Science in Studies in Mindfulness and I was a little too polite to express my inner thoughts of “why on earth would anyone study a subject like that?” I kept my opinion to myself and heard more from her about the practice of mindfulness and realized that she was very committed to it.

Seven months ago, she invited me to attend a session on mindfulness, and I am glad I kept an open mind despite not knowing what to expect from it. It introduced the key concepts of mindfulness and explained the stereotypical views attached to the practice of mindfulness. There, I decided to give it more thought, and before I knew it, there seemed to be an exponential growth in articles, media coverage and talk about mindfulness everywhere I looked. If you’re keen on finding out more about how to practice mindfulness and its benefits, you would be pleasantly surprised to know that there are many options available in Ohio. Just check out the three possible resources links here:  

Mindfulness: A Matter of Myth and Fact

It became clear to me that mindfulness as a practice was gaining currency in education, mental wellness and the corporate spheres where thousands of articles were written recommending best practices maximizing the value and benefits. But the underlying premise seems to radiate from oneself. I am certainly no scholar or trainer in mindfulness, so the focus of this article is merely to share how mindfulness has helped me in being kinder to myself by intentionally keeping an open mind regarding how I manage my thoughts, emotions, and actions, especially in coping with stress and relating to others.

I started by finding out as much as I could about mindfulness and cleared up some of the previous misconceptions that I had, such as:

  • Myth: mindfulness is synonymous with religious practices, fact: it is widely practiced across the secular world.
  • Myth: mindfulness is all fluff and worthy of attention only if you have too much time on your hands, fact: practicing it does, in fact, save you more time, headache and heartache.
  • Myth: mindfulness is a flavor of the month and a passing phase, fact: it has been around for as long as 2500 years.
  • Myth: mindfulness can be a perfect panacea to all your problems, fact: there is no such thing – mindfulness is a valuable tool to complement stress and problem-solving techniques (medical or non-medical).

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, “mindfulness” is defined as awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” says Kabat-Zinn. “It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”

As I read this quote, a few keywords jumped out at me, and I thought it fitting to describe my experience with mindfulness based on them.

What is Mindfulness?

Keeping Yourself In Mind

  • ‘Mindfulness is awareness…on purpose.’Being aware is simply a state of being conscious about something, being informed or attentive. Achieving awareness of purpose suggests a keen intent to direct that sense of awareness. In other words, taking the effort (and time) to be meaningfully conscious of facts, events, people or anything in our surrounding.As an educator and communications practitioner for the past two decades, I have met countless individuals who could have benefitted so much, just by increasing their awareness of the things and people around them. These people include 50-year-old team managers as well as 17-year-old youths who face challenges being mindful of their environments and their struggles with stress. Often, awareness is the last state of mind they want to embrace because it’s hard work and the truth sometimes hurts. Almost always, these individuals genuinely believe that they are aware of the problems they face but are very reluctant to consider their options in solving these issues and making small changes. I know because I’ve been there.It’s no mean feat being aware of your authentic self- perhaps because we doubt that we know ourselves well and we struggle to accept all of ourself. As part of this state of purposeful awareness, I have chosen to discuss two sub-components of consciousness, namely self-awareness and self-compassion as these two aspects seem vital to opening up to oneself before practicing mindfulness.Self-awareness: try walking in someone else’s shoes?One of the things that typically irk me when feedback (usually negative) is provided, is when the accompanying comment is “please don’t take this personally because it’s not.” My internal response to that used to be “HOW CAN IT NOT BE PERSONAL WHEN IT IS ABOUT ME????” yes, in full SCREAMING UPPERCASE.

    It was hard, and I needed to calm down, I just didn’t need to hear it coming from someone else. So I asked myself:

  • If hearing from someone else was so difficult, could I take it coming from myself? Well, I would never know unless I tried it. So I did – and it took some time being mindful that this was when my sense of empathy kicked in, both for others and more importantly, for myself. I wanted to intentionally consider the reasons and feelings of others when processing my emotional responses before taking any action.
  • Am I able to walk in someone else’s shoes and see their view? To do that, I needed to get comfortable in mine for starters. So I would honestly explore my emotions and actions and whether there were certain emotional minefields triggered with the feedback. After all, that knowledge would only be transparent to me, based on my experiences, upbringing, and beliefs.
  • Can I be humble enough to consider the reasons that the specific feedback was shared, to begin with? If I considered the intention and behavior of the sender (of the feedback) and I was able to see that the motivation was to build me up rather than tear me down – it became a lot clearer that I was better off moving forward rather than moping around. The litmus factor that helped here was to consider the sender’s relationship with me (either professionally or personally) to help discern their intentions either over a period of time or from a one-time session.

To be continued…..

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The REAL Reasons Why Rest is Important for Your Health

It is important to take a break to rest and relax, not just regularly, but also after intense periods of high-keyed activity.

At the most basic level, rest is a fundamental component of a healthy lifestyle. It rejuvenates you in both body and mind, and regular rest also helps you regulate many other things, such as mood and body rhythm. If rest is irregular or insufficient, you can be negatively affected not only psychologically, but also physiologically.

Routine rest is an important regulator. Daily sleep. Week-end breaks. Annual holidays. And a once-in-several-years’ sabbatical. Let’s take a look at the real reasons why rest is important for your health.

Every Day

The most important one is the daily (or nightly one). Regular sleep has been suggested to improve attention and learning. It promotes memorization of things you have learned, through a process called “consolidation” that happens during sleep. Not only is new information consolidated, they are also reorganized and restructured with a higher emotional reinforcement that increases creativity.

It has also been suggested that getting just enough sleep – not too much and not too little – prolongs your life, decreases fatigue and increases athletic stamina.

Conversely, insufficient sleep could be dangerous. Research suggests this can lead to increase in inflammatory proteins such as C-reactive protein, which in turn can lead to a host of other complications and disorders. Pediatric studies also suggest a lack of sleep in children is what causes hyperactivity, inattentiveness and impulsive behavior.

A UCSF study cited by the New York Times shows that rats exploring new areas needed downtime to consolidate their new experiences in order to learn and map out the new area. This is the extension of the nightly consolidation we need from sleep. 

Even a short walk – for 20-30 minutes, can help you clear your mind. There are other physiological forces at work, involving sleep, memory and new brain cells, that help you rebuild during a short walk.

Rest keeps heart disease, stroke and depression at bay.

There are more cited health benefits of regular and sufficient sleep, e.g., it helps you maintain a healthy weight, but surely what was mentioned above is more than enough. Moreover, a couple of years ago, scientists discovered one new reason for sleep – our body uses sleep time to flush out waste products from the brain. Little wonder that sleep is crucial for all living organisms – at least those that aren’t dysfunctional!

Every Week

What about weekly breaks? Most places have a weekend culture, and this is linked to religious cycles. There are the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian day of rest, and many other civilizations had their time cycles that roughly corresponded with one week, and includes a special day set aside for rest, and other non-work activities.

However, the weekend has probably become more important now than before, due to the advances of technology – the internet and mobile communications do not rest. They keep us plugged in 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is where downtime is needed. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behaviour shows that weekend breaks are necessary to replenish resources, in addition to nightly sleep.

Every Year

What about the health effects of annual vacations, then? Or taking a year-long sabbatical from work?

There is some controversy over this one. Some argue that the health benefits are real. Others argue the benefits disappear within a short time. You may come across some Internet articles touting benefits that are quite dubious. For example, this one article in the Daily Mail lists food variety and getting enough sunlight as a benefit of going on a holiday. The problem is, these are things you need on a daily basis, and not for two weeks a year. A recent article by the Daily Mail claims that holidaying health benefits last for several months. The UK’s National Health Services, however, claims this is exaggerated. The NHS article doesn’t really say there are no health benefits, but it is a VERY USEFUL article to read for different reasons – it educates people on how to read and analyze online claims.

What’s going on?

Well, take a closer look and you see that these articles mostly do not deal with the more subtle, and probably the more important, benefits of annual vacations. They build unique positive experiences that last a lifetime. They give you breathing space to think about priorities and directions in life, the sort of higher-order thinking that tends to get shelved aside as low-priority stuff amid the hustle and bustle of the daily grind.

And that is where life-changing decisions are seeded, and later bear fruit. How can that be bad?

So get as much REM sleep as you can to stave off heart disease, stroke, depression, and infections. Meanwhile, I’m going to plan my next holiday…

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Dancing with Grace

“Dancing With Grace”

Dancing With Grace is written by veteran journalist Clement Mesenas, who is the Founding Editor of Pinoy Star and the author of two books: The Last Great Strike and Dissident Voices.

When memory fades, it’s best to recall the good times…

She struggles to recall an answer to my question. Her eyes glaze over, her lips tremble as she tries to force out a name. But it’s all in vain. She shakes her head, a silent No to my question if she could remember her husband’s name.

Grace (not her real name to protect her identity) is in her late 80s. She has dementia, and I had volunteered my services at this elder care center to get a bit of oral history from her. Her children might cherish knowing her thoughts when she is gone. The stimulation might also be good, I am told, to activate her brain cells.

I feel my journalistic skills in asking questions, the right ones hopefully, might come in useful, but alas probe as I did, and try as she might, I feel I have come up against a blank wall.

Some people do not like being questioned. One can detect when they are evading the question. They do not make eye contact. They tense up. Politicians do not have this problem – their answers roll off their tongue with ease. They will give you politically correct answers, motherhood statements that serve no purpose.

Grace, who had lived in a two-story house leafy suburb of Bukit Timah as a young mother in a middle-class family, cannot recall that aspect of her life.

I decide to ditch my journalistic instincts. “Grace, you like nursery rhymes? You remember “Jack and Jill…” and off I went, reciting the poem I learned as a kid during the days of God save the King.

Grace’s eyes light up and she sings along with me, each word properly enunciated. She has a cultured voice.

Wow, I am encouraged. “Now, how among Wee Willy Winkie?” I ask.

Grace does not hesitate. “Wee Willy Winkie, runs through the town, upstairs and downstairs … in his nightgown”.

“Wasn’t he in his lady’s nightgown?” I ask.

Grace frowns at the naughty image I had conjured. She repeats: “In his nightgown”.

Abashed, I soldier on: “How about Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie?”

This poem she liked. Grace goes on unaided, reciting the poem with full gusto. Up comes her finger as she reached the finale when Jack pulls out a plum from his pie.

Glory be, I have found the key to unlocking some of the memories of Grace’s distant past.

She does not remember her husband’s name. I try another tack. “What was the colour of his eyes, you must have looked into his eyes often.”

She thinks. “Brown, she says, after all of five seconds.

“What do you remember about him? Did he treat you well?”

She is quick with her answer. “He was a kind man,” she says. There is a light in her eyes. “He was always there for me. He has gone to heaven,” she adds that last bit, emphatically.

I am very touched. “Yes, Grace, a kind man… and do you recall what you enjoyed doing with him when you went out together.”

“Dancing,” she said.

I jog her memory. “Ballroom dancing? Quickstep?”

“Yes, yes,” she cries happily. “The foxtrot too. We had a wonderful time dancing”.

It took an hour for me to reach this happy level of conversation with Grace.

I look at her with all sincerity. “Grace, it’s been lovely chatting with you.”

She holds out her hands to me. They are wrinkled and spotted with age. But her nails stand out. They had been painted just before we met.

Your nails are beautiful Grace,” I say. “What’s this colour? Red?”

“Scarlet,” she says, waving her brightly coloured red nails.

And with that, she is off to join her dancing class, a big smile on her face. A frail woman, a slipping memory. But still nimble on her feet, that’s our Grace.


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