Staying connected

Posted on September 19, 2017

Summer flowers

Recently I had had some disturbing conversations with some very good friends.  They were discussing their discomfort with a mother or father experiencing dementia. Equally disturbing, I was unable to give them comfort or hope and if not hope, at least a reason to continue to try.

Her mind is gone

There is no one there 

I never see her because she doesn’t know me

Time for her to die.

Or only a sad, stoic face.

I tried to remember when I felt like that. It wasn’t that long ago and it’s how I was raised.  Walk away and don’t look back.  These are lives of no real value.

So what changed?

Of course for me it was when Mom began to paint.  Mom’s paintings and those of her companions in Supported Living were undeniable and delightful evidence that I was wrong.  True, her memory and her ability to communicate verbally were ebbing but her imagination was not only intact but soaring.

It was me who changed.  The art was so fascinating – especially when she began transforming everyday objects into things of wonder – fanciful, mischievous and occasionally downright scary.  Plus everything was perfectly symmetrical and tended to have a face.  I finally grasped the idea the through the art, she was communicating ideas and emotions she couldn’t express any other way.


So I replaced sadness and denial with joy.  I stopped trying to get her to “come back” but instead became a member of her new family.

But what about my friends?  The art was one way. But it can be anything you can share – that you enjoy doing together.

Music – singing songs together – playing the music of their youth.  Dad loved Hawaiian music; they courted to Paul Whiteman and his band.  Games – playing catch with stuffed animals, playing a game (with Mom it was Scrabble), making something into a game.  If she asks you the same question over and over and over, make up a story.  It can be anything – a touch, a smile.

The important thing is to let go, live in the moment and have fun. Stay connected.

I don’t mean to imply that living with Alzheimer’s is rosy.  It’s not. But I tell you truthfully, I am not as afraid of the disease as much as I am afraid of living as one of the feared and forgotten, without a supportive social environment, without friends, without opportunities for creative expression, dismissed as an empty shell.

We are blessed to live in Seattle.  It’s a dementia friendly city in which people living with memory loss and dementia are increasingly welcomed as valuable members of the community, encouraged to live with fulfillment and love.



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Food for Thought

Posted on September 12, 2017


11 Chefs, 13 recipes—from Jacques Pepin’s White Bean and Sardine Toasts to Thierry Rautureau’s Baked Washington Apple. Each is accompanied by an exhilarating painting of the main ingredient created by an equally vibrant person living with dementia.

The price is $15.00 plus tax and shipping. Net proceeds will support The Art of Alzheimer’s exhibitions and programs celebrating the power of creative expression to empower and enrich the lives of people living with dementia and memory loss.

To order yours, visit

Feel free to contact me with any questions at

Thank you and Bon Appetit!

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Food for Thought

Posted on September 5, 2017

I love this recipe booklet.

My mother Jean inspired me in so many ways.  One of the first was a love of baking and cooking.  Then, at the age of 89 and living with mid-stage Alzheimer’s, she began to paint.  Her paintings were full of life, invention and wit.  They confounded everything I thought and feared about Alzheimer’s.  She opened my eyes and heart to the realization that people living with dementia are STILL HERE—able to live with dignity, creativity and joy.

Now Mom has inspired this recipe booklet—delicious recipes that nourish the brain and help slow the advance of cognitive decline.  Exhilarating art created by vibrant individuals living with dementia.

My thanks to the generosity of the Chefs, the artists and the art programs that foster the creative minds of people living with dementia.

Order information soon!

Bon Appetit!

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Delicious Brain Healthy Cuisine

Posted on August 29, 2017

I’ve told you about the recipe booklet, yes?   Eleven Chefs are generously contributing delicious, brain healthy recipes that reflect the principles of the Mediterranean Diet – oily fish, fruit, vegetables, unrefined cereals and olive oil, and low levels of red meat and sugar.

I’m one of those people who read cookbooks for fun.  So you can imagine how much fun I am having now as I look for the paintings that will accompany the recipes.  It’s best of both worlds.

Take a look…

Jane Eggers glorious deconstruction of a fish for Jacques Pepin’s White Bean and Sardine Toasts.

Gloria Kinney’s flying fish for Gene S. Cunningham, Executive Chef of Mirabella Seattle’s Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Bulgur Wheat and Crisp Mediterranean Salad.

I’m searching for paintings of lemons for Chef Madison Cowan’s Mediterranean Meyer Lemon-Olive Oil Cake and shrimp and eggplant for Caprial Pence’s  Grilled Eggplant with Harissa Sautéed Shrimp and Creamy Yogurt Cucumber and Couscous with Preserved Lemons, Mint and Basil

And I really must find recipes for these:

Jane Kippenhan’s pumpkin

or Mom’s

This electric banana


Mom’s Zucchini

See what I mean?

The recipe booklet will be available in November with all proceeds to benefit The Art of Alzheimer’s free art exhibits and programs.

Stay tuned!

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What is Your Promise?

Posted on August 22, 2017

What is your promise?

First, there is no real reason for this photo except that I love it.  My Uncle Malcolm, Mom and Louise in the 20’s on the farm in White Bluffs.

Second, I am working with two talented men who are helping The Art of Alzheimer’s move forward.  Strategies for visionaries, they call it.

I like it.

And they asked me that question.  Probably the most interesting question I have been asked in years.

I think it’s hope.

I don’t presume to conduct research, treatment programs, find a cure or produce the incredible programs that enable elders and care partners to live productive, meaningful and joyous lives.

What I can do create opportunities that inspire greater knowledge and understanding – that connect all people in appreciation of our common and enduring humanity.

In short, it’s all about love.

I’d love to hear from you – your experiences, ideas and aspirations.



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Time to Open My Heart Again

Posted on August 15, 2017

It’s time…

…to open my heart to a new family,’’

In April of 2013, I wrote about Mom’s new family and how they became my new family – Mom, Evelyn, Ruby, Kathleen, Phyllis, Flora, Jane, Sue, Joyce and Janet. They really did enrich my life, my heart and make me a better, more caring, more patient, a more loving person.

And each year since, the circle has narrowed,  First Mom, then Evelyn, Flora, Ruby, Kathleen and most recently Jane. Still with us –fading, but vital, loving and glorious – Gloria, Jane, Sue, Phyllis and Joyce.

I love these women but it’s time to open the circle.

All right, I don’t know everyone’s names yet.  As with Flora in 2013,  I will need their patience.

It starts with touch…

“He won’t talk but trust me, he will want this…”  I begin the massage through his heavy jacket and he begins to sing. As long as I touch him, he sings, stronger and stronger.  We smile.  There is recognition and love.  Oh, how happy this is.

I greet Marilyn,  “Hello Marilyn,” she smiles.  We enjoy this…our routine.

I talk to Joyce.,  I used to ask about Gus, her small stuffed animal and constant companion.  He hasn’t been around for some time.

“Who?”  she asks.  “I’ll ask my mother.”  I back off immediately.

I greet Phyllis.  As always, she smiles.  I think she’s happy.  I am. We hug.

Gloria, who has the most infectious and irrepressible smile and who absolutely loves neck massages – not just for her her but for everyone – cheers us on. “Look at her smile.”  Don’t say no!”

So many people to meet – so many people to love.  So much to look forward to.

Happy days.

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The Evolution of an Unlikely Artist

Posted on August 8, 2017

I recently attended the IAGG 2017 Conference on Aging and was privileged to speak at the Age Stage – a joint effort by the Gerontological Society of America and the National Center for Creative Aging.  The conference explored every aspect of the research being done on aging but for me the heart, the human face of all the research, lay in the Age Stage.  It was an engaging, exhilarating illustration of creative aging in action—a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit.

I presented an overview of Mom’s journey in art – from her very first painting to the last.  Because I am technically inept, I am unable to share the full Power Point here, so here are the highlights of 8 years.

In 2008, my father and the love of Mom’s life died.  to keep her occupied, we took her to the Elderwise painting class.  We had no expectations.

Mom’s first painting – She hadn’t painted since grade school and thought it was a childish waste of time.  But wow…who knew?

At first, when she saw a flower she painted a flower.  Then the transformations began.  This was an orange gourd.  I call it the Orange Meanie because the face looks just like a Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine.

Year 2 – I loved to see how she saw things.  A bouquet of flowers became a clown.  A zucchini – a dragon.  Increasingly, the paintings were perfectly symmetrical and tended to have a face.  (We’re not sure who Billy is.)


Year 3.  A sunflower

Year 4.  Then to my untutored eye, she seemed to lose interest, her paintings lost focus (but what do I know?)

So I played with her before the next class, singing, marching, walking and talking.  The painting changed.

So I continued – becoming a more active partner in her life.

Daffodils became serpents.

Year 5.  Oh so many…love them all.

Year 6.  I am woman – hear me roar.

Year 7.  The ink spilled.  “Oh never mind,” she said and made this.  To me it looks like a bird hungrily eyeing an insect.

She and dad were friends for 74 years.  This was her painting of sand dollars on a blue cloth.  I think this was the day she told me that she had a long conversation with him and was marrying again…”to the same one.”

Year 8.  She was losing interest but my sister Jeanne, an artist visiting from New York, got her interested in the shape of apples.  This is her last painting.

Miss you Mom.


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Thanks to Seniors Creating Art

Posted on August 1, 2017

The murals are here!  Thanks to Seniors Creating Art –

Inspiring hope and purpose in seniors by providing access to create art.

On July 10, we opened our second art exhibit – this time 15 murals of artwork created by people living with dementia and their care partners.  13 Senior Centers and Community Centers throughout Seattle participated and with the immeasurable skill and guidance of Seniors Creating Art and artist Diana Fairbanks, the artwork was transformed into stunning 4’ x 4’ murals.  They are now on display at the PNA Gallery at the Phinney Neighborhood Center through August 11 and then to the Pacific Science Center September 13 – March 4, 20018.


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Take Heart!

Posted on July 22, 2017

Nine lifestyle changes may reduce risk of dementia

“Nine lifestyle changes can reduce dementia risk,” BBC News reports. A major review by The Lancet has identified nine potentially modifiable risk factors linked to dementia.

The third change on the list is Eat a healthy balanced diet with a high proportion of oily fish, fruit, vegetables, unrefined cereals and olive oil, and low levels of red meat and sugar.

This fall we will introduce a recipe book of that speaks that issue.  Celebrated Chefs including Jacques Pépin, Madison Cowan, Caprial Pence and our own Thierry Rautureau are contributing recipes both delicious and healthy to the inaugural booklet. Each recipe will be paired with a stunning painting of the main ingredient, created by a person living with dementia.  Even better, net proceeds will support our free exhibits and programs working to enrich lives and expand public understanding of the disease and the people who live with it.

Now to find a zucchini recipe for Mom’s wonderful version.

Here’s the list

  1. Keep physically active – for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. You’ll need to be active enough to raise your heart rate and get a bit out of breath. You could walk, cycle, swim or join an exercise or dance group. Regular physical exercise in middle-aged or older adults reduces the risk of developing dementia. It’s also good for your heart and mental wellbeing. Exercise like this brings health benefits even if you’re not losing weight.
  2. Don’t smoke – if you already do smoke, try to stop. By smoking you are at a greater risk of developing dementia and harming your lungs, heart and circulation. If you want to stop smoking, talk to your GP. They can provide help and advice about quitting, and can refer you to an NHS Stop Smoking Service.
  3. Eat a healthy balanced diet – A healthy diet has a high proportion of oily fish, fruit, vegetables, unrefined cereals and olive oil, and low levels of red meat and sugar. Such a diet will help reduce your risk of dementia and heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Try to cut down on saturated fat (eg cakes, biscuits, most cheeses) and limit sugary treats. Keep an eye on your salt intake too, because salt raises your blood pressure and risk of stroke. Read food labels to see what’s in them and seek out healthier options.
  4. Keep your alcohol within recommended limits – and remember that these limits changed in 2016. They are now a maximum of 14 units each week for men and women, spread over 3 or more days. This is the same as four or five large glasses of wine, or seven pints of beer or lager with a lower alcohol content. Regularly exceeding these weekly limits increases your dementia risk. If you find yourself struggling to cut down what you drink, talk to your GP about what support is available.
  5. Take control of your health – If you’re invited for a regular mid-life health check at the doctor’s, be sure to go. It’s like an ‘MOT’ for your body and will include a check of your blood pressure, weight and maybe cholesterol level. These are linked to dementia and conditions that are strong risk factors for dementia (heart disease, stroke and diabetes). If you’re already living with one of these long-term conditions, follow professional advice about medicines and lifestyle. If you feel that you might be getting depressed, seek treatment early.
  6. Keep to a healthy weight this will reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease – and hence probably of dementia. A good place to start is to follow the advice on exercise and diet.  Keep a diary of your food intake and exercise for each day, and remember that alcohol contains hidden calories. The NHS Live Well website has lots of practical tips. Or you could join a local weight loss group. If you’ve tried to make changes without success, your GP can also offer advice.
  7. Give your brain a daily workoutThis could be reading, doing puzzles, word searches or crosswords, playing cards or learning something new – maybe another language. If you can keep your mind active you are likely to reduce your risk of dementia. There is a bit less evidence, but keeping socially engaged and having a good social network may also reduce your dementia risk. Visit people or have them visit you, join a club or volunteer.
  8. Maintain good hearingMid-life hearing loss – responsible for 9% of the risk
  9. Stay socially engagedBrain health experts are emphasizing the importance of staying socially engaged as studies show this is a potent risk factor for brain health. Social activities may include picking up a new hobby, volunteering at a local shelter, or sharing activities and experiences with friends and loved ones. No matter what you choose, pursuing social activities that are meaningful to you is key.

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Art provides a window

Posted on July 12, 2017

I recently spoke with John Zeisel, President of the I’m Still Here Foundation – and creator of the innovative MOMA Alzheimer’s Project—Making Art Accessible to People with Dementia   I referred to mother’s inability to remember painting and her disinterest in the paintings themselves.   “I think she absolutely remembers,” he assured me and urged me to try a different approach.  “Ask her what she thought the artist who painted them might have been thinking.”   I tried this out yesterday and, to my surprise, she responded.

“Well, that’s me,” she said, pointing to the larger image on the left.  “Such a beautiful woman,” she said sarcastically (self-deprecation being default mode for the McFees.)  I asked her about the smaller image on the right and—to my surprise and delight—she said it was me (I wasn’t present for the painting session but who knows?)   She added, “You are a lovely young woman.”  (Thanks, Mom!)   It seems to prove Zeisel’s point—there is a lot more going on inside there than we realize and art is a way to unlock it.

I also played for her the video about her art,  She thoroughly enjoyed the film and loved the paintings (though still insisting she didn’t paint them.)  She did, however, keep holding her hand in front of her image on the screen, wincing at she called her ugly, old face.  Old habits die hard… but arguably quite wrong as this photo—taken on her 94th birthday—will attest.



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