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Unique Tools to Re-engage Older Adults (with transcript)


Kari Rogenski is Director of the Hummingbird Project by Sage Eldercare Solutions. Kari combined her passion for eldercare and the creative arts by becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist and registered drama therapist working with elders. She is also co-creator of Joyful Moments: Meaningful Activities to Engage Older Adults. She is a proud advocate for the importance of finding and embracing joy throughout life.



Frank Samson:  Welcome to Boomers Today. I’m your host, Frank Sampson. And of course each week we bring you important, useful information on issues facing baby boomers, their parents, and other loved ones. Today we have with us Kari Rogenski, who is the Director of the Hummingbird Project by Sage Elder Care Solutions.


Kari combined her passion for elder care and the creative arts by becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist and registered drama therapist working with elders. She’s also co-creator of Joyful Moments, meaningful activities to engage older adults. She is a proud advocate for the importance of finding and embracing joy throughout life. So Kari, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today, really appreciate it. This is pretty exciting.

Kari:                 Thank you so much for having me. I’m really looking forward to sharing our hummingbird beliefs with you today, Frank.

I don’t know if you know this or not, but a lot of legends hold that hummingbirds actually possess magical qualities and I often think of this myself when I see a hummingbird in my front yard or in my garden. What I love about the visual of the hummingbird is that they really are about bringing hope and harmony to others. And they’re also of course really energetic and quite a lot of fun. The role of a hummingbird really is to pass from flower to flower, drinking the nectar and relishing in life and joy and beauty. So that’s why we chose the term hummingbird. I personally think it is absolutely the right way to describe who we are and what we do.

Frank:               I love that. I love that. So tell us more about the Hummingbird Project and how the idea of the hummingbird relates to your entire project.

Kari:                 Thank you. The Hummingbird Project was really born out of the firm belief that quality of life is as important as quality of care. And of course in the elder care field, we hear a lot about quality care and quality of life. And at the Hummingbird Project, we really wanted to kind of focus in on three different areas as a project. So one area of focus is of course the program and our one-on-one delivery of services. The other is our creation of engagement tools. And the goal of those engagement tools was to reach beyond the borders of where we serve as a program and to be able to share what we know about the impact of therapeutic activities and engagement with others through our therapeutic activity cards, Joyful Moments, since you referenced, and then also our activity kits.

And then the kind of third area focused for Hummingbird, the Project is education. So we’re really focused on sharing what we know about engagement and the impact it has on our life and wellness and really encouraging all of us, but specifically older adults to make sure that they live their whole life through. And that no matter what the physical or cognitive challenges that might come your way, that joy is still the focus of life.

We’re a in-home therapeutic activity program and we’re really focused on providing life enhancing recreation to people in the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento. We focus our work on older adults and most people find us when they have or a member of their family has a dementia diagnosis. We also work with adults living with disabilities and we’ve worked with people from all walks of life over the years. So really anyone who has identified a quality of life need can utilize our services and our tools and our education to help bring more happiness and joy to life.

Frank:               So within the Bay Area and Sacramento, are you actually going to them or are they coming to you or both?

Kari:                 That’s a great question. So we come to you and that to me is really a defining factor of the Hummingbird Program. We bring our services to you, wherever it is you reside. Many of our clients may live at home with family or professional caregiver support, but many of our clients also reside in assisted living or independent living communities. We bring our sessions to them in their place of residence. So sessions are typically kind of two hours once or twice a week. The best part is that the person doesn’t have to worry about getting to and from a day center, to and from a place of gathering, we come to you to make it really easy and so we can focus our energy and your energy on enjoying the moment and the session.

Frank:               Do you work with people one on one, or is it mostly mostly on a group basis?

Kari:                 Oh great question. So almost all of our services are one-on-one. When I go to work with a client, Frank, I myself am preparing the curriculum for that person based on my knowledge of them and my relationship to them. And then I’m coming to their home and I’m creating that therapeutic activity session for them, delivering it, making sure to have any supplies we might need. Everything we do is highly planned and organized. And then I’m conducting the session and engaging in the experience with the person in their home. And we do offer group programs through the Hummingbird Project, but that’s not our primary focus.

Frank:              Right. So as, and you, I know you know this, but I certainly have interviewed people. I actually interviewed the CEO of the AARP Foundation on a study that was done not that long ago about being alone and the horrible effects, and depression and about being alone. So I commend you for what you’re doing. I’m sure you’ve helped a lot of people so you don’t have that as much loneliness and hopefully even helping to prevent depression. Maybe talk about that a little bit.

Kari:                 Well thank you so much for bringing that up. Social isolation is one of the number one reasons clients find the Hummingbird Project and we’re really focused on helping to combat the things you just mentioned, right? And to really build a relationship with the client, which I think is one of those magical hummingbird qualities I referenced earlier. That is that our program is relationship based, so when we work with our clients, Frank, we tend to work with them for many years. In fact, many of the clients that I have worked with since I’ve been with the company, I have seen through the end of their life because our relationship becomes so strong and my ability to support their wellbeing and provide them with that level of connection becomes a part of their lived experience.

Isolation, depression, loneliness, boredom is something that we hear a lot about. So there’s many benefits to engaging in therapeutic activities. One of my favorites is what you’re speaking to and that is creating a positive social experience for the clients and making sure if that client is isolated and struggling to get out that we’re coming in and I’m helping to make the world a little bit bigger and a little bit brighter.

Of course you’ve heard me speak about the importance of joy and joy is one of the primary areas of focus for our clients. But the reason for that is we want to make sure that life is fun and that there’s enjoyment in life. Unfortunately for many people, especially if they’re isolated or they’re having to manage really complicated medical or cognitive needs, that experience of joy tends to diminish. And that’s a huge area of focus for us.

Another thing that I find really inspiring is the importance in these relationships, Frank, of being able to validate feelings and experience and identity and to help the clients either discover new interests or re-engage with old passion projects that perhaps are hard now given some physical challenges. If the client is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, we really still want to support them and empower them no matter what the challenge is to still be able to engage in the things that have brought them joy throughout their life. So creating that feeling of belonging and worth, purpose and meaning, engagement and alleviating those things you mentioned like social withdrawal and distress and isolation, is what we really thrive to achieve in every interaction we have with a client.

Frank:               Could you give us maybe one or two examples of activity sessions that you might use when when you’re working with an older adult.

Kari:                 I’m going to tell you a little bit about a client that I’m actually working with right now. This is a gentleman that I’ve been seeing for a couple of years who has experienced some memory loss. And when I was brought in, Frank, his wife was really looking to find ways to have more social interaction for him in his home. His world had gotten pretty small because of his memory loss. Sometimes he’sstruggled to connect socially when there were a lot of people around. He was a little withdrawn. And we thought that the best way to help him feel comfortable working with an activity specialist was to introduce the idea of a memoir legacy project about the incredible life that he has and the amazing work that he’d done as a professional businessman.

I would come in once a week with a prepared set of questions that were rooted in kind of reminiscing and really getting to know more about his life story and what has made his heart sing throughout his life. And I would interview him as much like you’re interviewing me today and I would record or transcribe and write down what he was saying and over our time together, that’s now become a book that we’re working on. And it became clear to him during our time together that this is a book he wanted to bestow upon his family, especially his children, to really share with them his whole life from when he was a young man to when he was in the Coast Guard to when he was a really respectable businessman building a business around North America. And so now we’re working with a professional book designer and an editor because he really wants the book to be of high quality, professional in nature and something he can share with friends and family, but also with professional colleagues. And what I love about the sessions is that we’ve been able to really reach beyond his sphere. So we’ve been able to connect with old friends of his to gather pictures.

His uncertainty about who I was and what we were there doing has now transitioned into enjoy and enthusiasm for what we do in our sessions sessions every single week. And I think it was my ability to really build a relationship with him, my constant devotion and interest in his story, no matter how many times he may have repeated himself, and also my ability to work with his memory loss and embrace that and to empower him around it. I love hearing his stories. So if he repeats or shares a story several times, I enjoy that experience and I really reflect that back to him. And it’s been able to allow us to create this project that is rich with meaning in his life.

Frank:               That’s fantastic. Now, I know you said that the one on one work you do with families and older adults is primarily in the Bay area and in the Sacramento area. But I know you have a program where you can engage families throughout the rest of the country. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Kari:                 Well, thank you so much for asking Frank. It occurred to us as the Hummingbird Project has grown over time that we needed to find a way to reach beyond our borders. And I’ll also offer, I am from Canada, I grew up in Canada. So of course part of the need for myself was how do I share this great work that I have the privilege of doing with my family back home in Canada? And how do I support my own family and my grandmother who’s living with Alzheimer’s disease? What tools and tricks and ideas can I share with my family to help them support her, her wellbeing and her quality of life goals?

And so out of that was born our Joyful Moments Therapeutic activity cards. Over the years, so many clients, and families have reached out to us and shared with us how hard it can be to have meaningful connection and conversation with their aging loved one, especially if that loved one can’t remember them from visit to visit, or if because of Alzheimer’s or dementia, their personality has changed in a way that may make it hard for the adult child to relate to their parent in the way that they used to.

And so Joyful Moments was really born out of this idea of wanting to put into the hands of professionals and family caregivers a tool that they could use when they go to visit their loved ones so that they feel like they have something that they can rely upon and some structure and some ideas. So what we did, Frank, is we took so many of the activities we’ve been doing at Hummingbird for years. I mentioned earlier this memoir project I’ve worked on with a client, but our one on one sessions include armchair travel, a lot of arts-based experiences, crafts and hobbies, technology, music. The way that we create our curriculum for our one on one sessions is very eclectic because of course it’s based on the client and the person we’re working with. And so Joyful Moments contain some of our most favorite activities.

And we really worked hard to make sure that Joyful Moments was user friendly for the activity partner or the person initiating the activity. And that also that the ideas are adaptable to the client or the person’s needs. So all of the activities were created for people with dementia in mind and they’re all adaptable because based on the interaction between the two activity partners and I use that term because when we’re engaging in activity, we want to let go of the idea of parents, an adult child or client and professional and we really just want to be two people having an experience and hopefully an experience that’s very joy-filled. And so that’s what the activity cards do and they come in this great handy dandy little deck and they’re like a recipe card, Frank. So on the front is the activity name and a little description and on the back of the activity card is is how to steps. Step-by-step, if there is materials you might want to gather. If there are ways you might want to work beyond the activity card, ways to expand, ways to reconnect with family and a step by step guide.

And we put them in a deck of cards as opposed to a book because we had this vision of family and professional caregivers being able to put Joyful Moments in their handbag as they’re literally walking in to see their loved one and be able to take out one card that they were interested in and then offer this experience that they could have with their loved one that is enjoyable for both participants.

And I really am proud of Joyful Moments and happy and excited to share them as a resource to people all around the world really because they’re such an amazing way to connect with your loved one or your client or your friends. And the cards themselves are an engagement tool, even if you’re just kind of flipping through and enjoying them as a place to start.

Frank:               Where can our listeners go to learn more about the cards?

Kari:                 You can go to our website to learn more. The first is by visiting hummingbirdproject.net and then the other is to visit specifically joyfulmomentscards.net. On the hummingbird project website, you can learn a lot more about the project itself. There’s a lot of information on our website about our holistic quality of life theory, which is the evidence based practice that informs the activity card domains, which are what we focus our activities on. Which includes the program, our Joyful Moments activity cards, and our focus on education. On our Joyful Moments website, is where you can order the cards and have them delivered to your home and they are a fantastic resource for a really affordable price, that will come right to you, and you can start using them immediately. I also like to offer, Frank, to people who order them, we offer free complimentary consultation.

We’d also love to sign you up for our newsletter that includes Joyful Moment card stories in action so you can see how other people, both us as activity specialists and families are using the cards and I’m always happy to brainstorm with anyone who purchased the cards around how to get started. Sometimes that can be the hardest part. You received the tool and you look at it and you think, okay, what’s my next step? Feel free to reach out to me directly and I would love nothing more than to help you initiate that next step. And then to to be a support as you use the cards and expand both your personal interests and your loved ones, which is what it’s all about.

Frank:              Great. So we’ve got about a minute left. I’m going to put you on the spot here, okay? My question is – let’s say we’ve got a family member that is at the beginning stages of their caregiver, family caregiver for a loved one who’s been recently diagnosed with dementia. How should they start to prepare now?

Kari:                 My sincere and heartfelt advice is to start to collect a list of ways that you and your loved one can engage and connect no matter what is ahead. One of the challenges and the fears that family caregivers often have is the narrative that society shares with us around Alzheimer’s and dementia. And of course it is a very challenging diagnosis to receive. But what I like to do is say that in spite of those challenges, let’s be sure we focus on the joy and let’s change that narrative and let’s make sure we have a list of positive ways we can engage and a list of mom’s favorite things and a list of mom’s favorite places to go to and make sure as a family caregiver that you always find ways to engage in those past interests or discover new ones together.

One of the beauties that can come of a dementia diagnosis is people tend to be more creative and more open to ideas than their personality may have allowed them to be in the past. And sometimes that can be a really beautiful opportunity to try new things and to discover new ways of being with your loved one. And so my number one recommendation to people in this situation you’re referencing is do not lose hope. Focus on what the person can do, find ways no matter what to connect and to have joyful experiences with your loved one and make sure you reach out to find support and resources to make that possible.

Frank:              Great advice, Kari Rogenski. Check it out, hummingbirdproject.net and Kari, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today, I really appreciate it.

Karl:                 My pleasure. Thank you Frank and my thanks to Senior Care Authority for having me today.

Frank:               Oh, you’re very welcome and thank you everybody for joining us as well. Just be safe out there and we’ll talk to y’all soon.



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