Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Living with dementia - apps that can offer support

As many of you reading my blog will know, I've spend this summer with my mother and have been exploring different ways that technology can help.  In this post I'm going to review several iPad apps that can support people with dementia and their carers.

The first app I looked at was MindMate, which is aimed both at those with dementia and the people caring for them.  There is a games section that contains 8 interactive games that build cognitive abilities and focus on attention, memory, speed and problem solving.  There's also a section called My Life that gives reminders about daily things such as brushing your teeth and exercising.   The aim of the app is to help those suffering with dementia to improve their self-management.  In this section you can add the most important information into Getting to Know Me, preserving memories so that they don't get lost if the person with dementia has to go into hospital or a residential home.

There is also a My Story photo timeline tool.  This app is available for the iPad and iPhones and it's completely free.  There are 2 other MindMate apps, Plus and Pro.  These allow the app to be used with family members and with multiple profiles on the same device - so could be useful in a care home.

To find out more about MindMate visit the website.

My House of Memories is another free app.  This has been designed by the National Museums Liverpool for exploring objects from the past and sharing memories together.  Again it has been designed for people living with dementia and their carers who can browse through a range of everyday sets of objects from the past,  brought to life with mutimedia to stimulate memory and conversation.

The app allows the creation of a Memory Tree, where someone with dementia can save their favourite objects, photos and videos to look at whenever they like.  The Memory Tree can also be shared with others.  There is also a read aloud option.  The app includes information for carers and tips for promoting memory through activities and resources.

The Book of You is a paid app (costing £25 for an individual) that uses reminiscence therapy to create a personal life story of someone living with dementia.  This digital book is designed to be constructed by carers as a shared activity to capture the memories of someone with dementia, creating a memory book of the precious times in their lives.  You can add words, pictures, music and film into the book, showing who the person was and who they are now.  The video below explains more about this project.

The final resource I'm sharing in this post is the Talking Point app - a free online support and discussion forum from the Alzheimer's Society.  The app encourages people to reach out and talk to others who are experiencing the same feelings and worries and is aimed at those with dementia and their carers.  In Talking Point you can ask for advice, share information, and feel supported.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The what, the how and the why: unpacking our mission statement

We are about to have our first day with students tomorrow.  Up to now we have had teacher orientation and just like we do at the start of every year we begin with looking again at our mission statement.

This year we started with Simon Sinek's concept of the  "Golden Circle" - the why, how and what of what we do.  This explains why some organizations and leaders are able to inspire and why others are not.  Let's start with the what.

The What
We looked at this video, We Have A Responsiblity to Awe.

After this we talked in groups about whether we do this as a school - how, where, when and who we awe.  How we are doing at inspiring our students - are we exceeding their expectations, meeting them or failing to meet them?  We decided for us that The What is our school's mission statement.
We inspire all of our students to continuous inquiry, empowering them with the skills, courage, optimism, and integrity to pursue their dreams and enhance the lives of others.
The How
Unpacking our mission statement brought us to the how.  Basically this is contained in the words "skills, courage, optimism and integrity".   When this mission statement was written 15 years ago we did not define what the skills are - indeed they are changing to meet the needs of the students.  We felt that it was quite visionary to use these words - in particular that in today's world students would need courage and optimism.  We watched the following video of a Rube Goldberg machine that was designed by Audri, a 7 year old who made a monster trap.

The Why
We are back to the mission statement again, the final part being at the heart of our why.  This is the pursuit of dreams and enhancing the lives of others.  We talked about how some people pursue their dreams, but the downside is that they leave a very choppy wake for others.  In our mission statement the purpose is to enhance others' lives, not to pursue our dreams at their expense.

Wired for Struggle
At our elementary faculty meeting this morning we watched a snippet of another video, a TED talk by BrenĂ© Brown about the power of vulnerability.  Here's the bit we talked about - how we will support our students' struggles:
And we perfect, most dangerously, our children. Let me tell you what we think about children. They're hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand,our job is not to say, "Look at her, she's perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect -- make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh." That's not our job. Our job is to look and say,"You know what? You're imperfect, and you're wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging." That's our job. Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we'll end the problems, I think, that we see today. 
So tomorrow I start my 5th year at ASB.   Here's hoping that it will be the best year yet!

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Inner Critic

As my regular readers will know, this summer I’ve been spending time with my mother who has dementia.  For my own mental health, I’ve been taking time once or twice a day to go for a walk, with the aim of walking 10,000 steps each day (which also fits in with our new theme next year at school, the Year of Movement).  During this time I’ve been listening to the mindfulness meditation app Buddhify.  A couple of these have really struck a chord with me, especially the meditation that deals with the Inner Critic.

We can all suffer from that voice in our head that tells us we are not good enough.   I have spent many weeks with this voice, constantly asking myself what is the best thing to do to meet Mum’s needs.  The meditations have helped me to appreciate that I shouldn’t fight these negative emotions because adding more struggle to the negative never tends to end well.

For the last couple of days I’ve been trying to do as the meditations suggest – to acknowledge the inner critic by naming the emotion.  As I’ve heard, over and over again, naming the demon allows the hero to gain the upper hand.  The meditations have guided me to actually say hello to the critical thoughts that emerge in my head while I’m out walking.  These are examples of some of my most common emotions:

I’m not good enough – hello judgment
I’m not doing this right – hello doubt
Why did I do that? – hello blame
I shouldn’t have done that – hello guilt

We are told in these meditations that emotions are simply thoughts with a lot of energy behind them, and that by naming the emotions we externalise them, and see them as separate from ourselves.  And what I love as well is the metaphor shared in one of the meditations about the sky and the clouds: 
Whatever clouds pass through the sky, whether stormy or clear, the sky does not change.  It is just a container for the clouds and the weather as they stick around for a bit and then pass on by.  The sky unchanged by the things within it.  The sky knows the weather very well indeed but it also knows that it is not the weather, it is the sky. 

So this is worth hanging on to – my mind is like the sky – negative thoughts and emotions pass through, but the person I am remains, and does not get changed by them.

Photo Credit: rkramer62 via Compfight cc

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Can virtual and augmented reality transform living with dementia?

I’m spending the summer with my mother, who has been diagnosed with dementia.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been exploring various iPad apps to see how she reacts to them.  The ones I’m writing about today are virtual and augmented reality.

Live Butterflies – This is an augmented reality app that uses the iPad camera for viewing and adds a variety of different butterflies onto the screen.  I tried this app because it was one that I’d read about on a dementia website called Memory Apps for Dementia.  Also because I love butterflies myself and thought that Mum would like them too, and it was free to try.   With this app you can either use the Viewer or play a game.  In the Viewer, you turn the screen to see butterflies flying around you.  There are 4 butterflies you can choose from, the Monarch, Orange Tip, Banded King Shoemaker and Blue Morpho.  If you touch the screen one of the butterflies will fly over and land on your finger.  There’s an onscreen camera so you can take a photo of what you see on the screen.  So far with Mum I’ve only used the Viewer, but the app also has a game where you can catch as many butterflies as you can in a set time.  Mum did enjoy using this app with me, though I don’t think she would use it by herself.

My Reef 3D Aquarium – this app is a virtual aquarium where you choose the fish and the background and then interact with it.  You can change the backdrop, drag and drop various items into the aquarium, change the gravel, add a bubble sound and so on.  You have 55 different types of tropical fish to choose from, and each of these fish behaves as it would in a real aquarium, for example in swimming in schools and sometimes even interacting aggressively with other fish!  It’s also possible to set the aquarium as a sleep timer along with your own music.    Once you have set up your aquarium you can choose a still or moving camera that scans through the aquarium, allowing you to focus in and follow individual fish.  You can also “knock” on the glass, feed the fish and turn the light off and on.  Within the app you can set up 3 different aquariums with different fish and then you can move between them.  This app has been tried in residential care homes for people with dementia and has been found to be very gentle and easy to use, even for people with advanced dementia.  This is a low cost app and there is also a lite version of this app with 14 different types of fish.  I loved this app, but Mum wasn't so keen.  She said she didn't really like fish!

Before moving to her independent living apartment, my mother used to have a big garden – it was my father’s pride and joy and he used to boast that he had a plant in flower every day of the year.  I was on the look out for apps that might allow Mum to enjoy a garden and came across the Flower Garden app which was also recommended for people with dementia.  This app has been successful in tapping into memories which people have enjoyed from years gone by, as many people with dementia used to enjoy growing plants and may be missing their gardens.    Flower Garden allows you to choose virtual seeds, plant them, water them and watch them grow.   Some of the flowers bloom straight away and others take a few minutes of care each day over a week to help them grow.  The amazing thing is that you can then cut your flowers and make them into a bouquet and send it along with a personalized card.  This app is also a paid one, or a free app with in-app purchases.

The next set of apps I want to try with Mum are those that focus on attention, memory, speed and problem solving.  I’d also like to explore apps that can be used with reminders about day-to-day activities.

Do you know someone with dementia who enjoys using iPad apps?  If so please leave me a comment as I’d love to try out some more apps with my mother.  Thank you!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Can technology transform living with dementia?

My project for the past few days has been to see whether technology can help my mother with her dementia.  My mother has always been very artistic, often painting flowers, though in recent years she has not created any art at all.  However I noticed when I arrived this summer that she does attend an art therapy class where she uses adult colouring books, and one of these was the Kew Gardens Flowering Plants Colouring Book containing outline drawings of plants.  This is a gorgeous colouring book which showcases illustrations by accomplished British botanical artists, and Mum has been able to make lovely pictures using this book.

Mum has never used a computer or iPad.  She has a mobile phone but has never been able to use it either and mostly doesn't remember to charge it.  Despite this, I was keen to see whether using the touchscreen on my iPad would be possible for her.  I was hoping that an iPad would be more intuitive than using a computer and that I could find some apps that would allow her to create art easily.  I was also looking for apps that would help her memory and interaction.

Today I explored the app Prisma.  I thought that this would be an app that would appeal to my daughter too, who has just got a degree in art history, because many of the filters are those of famous artists.  We tried this out with selfies, photos of Mum's grandchildren and photos of flowers.  Mum liked working on the flower photos best.   Here is the picture that she liked working on the the most, using a mosaic filter:

Another app we tried today was Kaleidoscope which allows you to make geometric patterns on the screen.  I know Mum had a kaleidoscope as a child because my grandmother still had it in her house when I was young and I used to love playing with this. This was quite entertaining for a while but I'm not sure that Mum would want to explore this much more.

I have a whole list of other iPad apps that I want to try out with Mum, including the Bloom HD app that I used with our First Grade students earlier this year.  If these manage to be successful and entertaining for Mum, we can get her an iPad for her birthday next month.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Being a mother to my mother

This summer has been a more relaxed one than in previous years.  While I did 4 days of cognitive coaching in Genoa last month, most of my holiday has been spent with family and friends.  I visited a friend in Croatia, went to our daughter’s graduation for her MA, helped her find a place to live in London, and then the following week helped her move in, but most of the time I’ve been with my mother, who last year was diagnosed with dementia.  It’s been a challenging time as I am having to learn so much about what this condition entails.  And I’m having to revise my own ideas of what my mother can do and what she is experiencing, almost on a daily basis.

As this blog is called Tech Transformation, I also wanted to share some resources that I’ve been using as I try to come to terms with and to help Mum cope with this disease.  I have found some great resources on the internet to educate myself about what is happening and what we can expect, and I’ve been using an app to help me cope with what at times can be stressful and challenging.

One of the best sites I’ve found is the Dementia Friends website set up by the Alzheimer’s Society.  This website aims to change people’s perceptions of dementia.    One of the most helpful resources to inform people about dementia is the bookcase analogy.  I found this on YouTube and am sharing it here as it’s a good, clear explanation of what people with dementia are experiencing:

In my mother’s case it’s clear that there are many books that have “fallen off the shelves” and at the same time others that have been put back on again in the wrong order.  Sometimes a memory is true, but the people in it or the time it happened are not.  And there are some strong emotions attached to memories that are now unreliable.   We started to notice a loss of short-term memory in Mum around 2 years ago, though it took a year (and a brain scan) to get a final diagnosis last summer.  During this time Mum has become confused and has some difficulties communicating and planning.  I have also seen it affect her moods and emotions, and have seen her becoming frustrated and angry about everyday things.  Some days it’s like living with a 2-year old again, and I’m having to draw on strategies that I haven’t used since my own children were toddlers in order to cope.  At the same time I’ve seen that Mum does still enjoy many of her hobbies and loves being with people – and that this does work well in small doses.  We know that people with dementia are often happier if they can live independently in their own homes, so that is what we are trying to make sure can happen for Mum, with increased support.

But what I have come to see over the past 5 – 6 weeks is that it’s important to care for the people who are looking after loved ones with dementia too.  And as I’m still learning how best to support Mum, I do a lot of things wrong, and then feel upset and think how I should have done something different or said something in a different way.   It’s a learning experience for me – and this is hard learning!

Mum lives on the edge of a large park, and to help me de-stress I’ve been walking.  I downloaded a step app onto my iPhone and have set myself the goal of walking 10,000 steps a day.  I go out in the morning and the evening and simply being out in nature is calming.  I've tried several different apps, but have settled on one called Steps.  It’s simple with just a background that changes colour like a sunrise the more steps I take each day.   I have stuck to the recommended 10,000 steps (7 km) but it’s possible to change the goal.  So far the only problem I have encountered with this app is that using the GPS does dramatically reduce the battery life.

As well as this I have been using Buddhify for guided meditations.  During my time at Mum’s I have focused on 4 specific areas of this app:
  • Parks and Nature
  • Walking in the City
  • Difficult Emotions
  • Feeling Stressed
In the Parks and Nature section there are 4 meditations.  These focus on recognising how much bigger than ourselves nature is, letting nature inspire you with kindness, paying close attention to our senses, and inclining our mind towards peace.

I’ve done the Walking in the City sections out in the countryside on my daily walks.   In this section there are 6 meditations. These use outer space to bring inner space, connect you with your stride and the physicality of movement, help you notice a sense of stillness while moving, and spread kindness to those around us.  There is also a sitting meditation that can be done in the city.

As well as these, while walking in nature I’ve been listening to the sections about stress and emotions.  In the Difficult Emotions section there are 5 meditations that deal with self-judgement, recognising and allowing the difficult, giving space to difficult things, seeing how emotions move and change, and exploring the details of our emotions. 

Finally in the Feeling Stressed section there are 6 meditations that deal with breathing, moving out of your thoughts and into your body, replacing negative thoughts with neutral ones, understanding your stress and becoming free of it, and the RAIN technique for dealing with difficult emotions.

This summer, as I have been walking around and thinking I know there are some hard decisions to be made.  When I get back to school I need to decide whether or not to renew my contract for a further period of time, or whether next year will be my last one in India.  I need to balance my professional growth with the support I can offer to my family.  These are hard decisions.  I hope that becoming more mindful will give me the confidence I need to make good decisions.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Transcendence – Integrity part 8

I’m up to the final chapter of the book Integrity which looks at character traits that are the key to success in relationships, business and life in general. 

Around 5 years ago I went on a week’s field trip with a group of Grade 5 students.  While there, a group of administrators from another local school came to visit the centre to see if it would be a possible venue for their own school trips.  One of these administrators asked me the question, “What’s it like working for a megalomaniac?”  The question took me back a bit as it was so direct and also very difficult to answer.  This question is also addressed by Dr. Cloud in his chapter on transcendence.

Cloud writes that some people live as if they are the centre of the universe and put a lot of effort into building their own little kingdom.  This called to mind an interview question I was asked once.  The question was “Where will you be in 5 years time?” and my response back to the Director of the school was “Where will you be?”  His answer was interesting:  he told me that he had just taken over the school and that in 5 years he would still be there.  The words he used were something like, “I’m not going to spend my time building a good school and then hand it over to someone else.”  In retrospect this should have rung some warning bells, but unfortunately it didn’t.

Cloud writes quite extensively in his book Integrity about this trait of narcissism.  It is displayed in grandiosity, omnipotence, extreme selfishness, exploitiveness, overestimation of one’s talents or importance, feelings of entitlement and egocentricity.  It is based on arrogance, selfishness and pride, where we are the kingpin in a little world of our own making.  The results are likely to be shallow, toxic and destructive.

Successful people are the opposite of narcisstic – they are what Cloud refers to as transcendent as they realize there are things bigger than them and that their life is about finding their role in the big picture.  The people we love being around are those who throw themselves into the mission of greater good.   Cloud writes, “It is the big things, not ourselves, that make us big.  As we join them, we become larger.  The paradox is that to join things bigger than us, we have to humble ourselves and become “smaller”.  When we realize we exist for them and not them for us, we grow into greatness.  The greatest people are the ones who have not sought greatness, but served greatly the causes, values and missions that were much bigger than them.”

Bigger things that transcend us are our values – the things that guide our behavior.  In my role in technology one of the values I have is respect for other people’s creations.  This means using only legally purchased software, for example.  The day I was told to use illegal software in a previous job, was the day I was determined to leave.  Living in a beautiful country and earning lots of money could no way compensate for going against my core values.

Cloud writes about the importance of awareness:  people who live for bigger things know that bigger exists, and this awareness leads to action.  He tells us “values without visible expression of those are not worth much”.

I have been reading Dr Henry Cloud’s book Integrity as part of ASB’s summer read.  The book has taken me on a journey that has made me reflect on my own values relative to past experiences.  Reflection is always good if it leads to new learning and insights.  Some of the things I have faced while reading this book have not been pleasant, however I would recommend it and am looking forward to our discussions once I’m back at school.   Here are some of the most important paragraphs that I have found in the book.

Practice Without Catastrophic Results
“If you have not had a safe place to develop different aspects of who you are, and to practice in ways that your career or life is not at risk, you have probably not developed certain character traits.  In some ways you have been in survival mode, and that is not the mode in which we usually develop new aspects of character, other than perseverance.  New skills require openness, but survival requires protecting oneself.  That is why in fear-based corporate cultures, people often do not grow in new ways.  They are too busy guarding themselves and watching their back.”

Proper Structured Feedback
“The “boss” relationship should be just this way:  observe, give feedback, coach, mentor and grow.  Instead too often it falls into the “ignore and zap” mentality.  Bosses ignore people’s patterns until the problem is too much, then they come down hard or fire them.  Firing should never, ever be a surprise.  It should be the end of a process that has attempted to give lots of corrective feed back.  When this process goes right, firing does not happen, but growth does.  Character thrives on feedback that is focused and used well.”

Support That Does Not Enable

“In character growth the road is sometimes rocky.  We have to swallow our pride, our egos, our resistance, and sometimes just bite the bullet and hear things we don’t want to hear    Sometimes it can be so tough that you either want to quit or think that you can never master what you are being told to do.  So at those times we also need the arm around our shoulder.  We need support and encouragement to do the hard thing.  We need the push to keep going.  To know that a leader or someone cares about us can help us to do the hard next step.  If we know we have someone on our team it changes everything.  But this support has to be of a certain nature.  It has to side not only with us as people, but also with our need to grow.  The best support people …. do not enable us to remain the same by rescuing us … they caringly walk alongside us, but hold us to the path at the same time.”

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