Kathryne Fassbender is a Dementia and Creative Engagement Specialist and the granddaughter of someone who lived with Vascular Dementia.
She is the creator of the Dementia Letters Project, which serves to walk with those on their dementia journey through training workshops, Life Enrichment program development and facilitation, and care partner support.
Kathryne is a native of Wisconsin but now calls the East Coast home. She is a classically trained musician, studio artist, and theatre-maker with a background in the creative arts therapies, and has spent the last 20 years serving those with dementia. She believes in cultivating a community that is wealthy in creativity, connection, hope, and joy.
Hanh: [00:03:37] do you see creative engagement as a way to become.
[00:03:42] Relational with those with dementia.
Kathryne: [00:03:45] Yeah. So a lot of times how you see interactions, particularly in the long term care settings with CNAs and nurses is that it’s still a task oriented relationship. And so, there’s a knock on the door, you know, hi Mary, I have your medication for today, or it’s time to get ready for a doctor’s appointment.
[00:04:03] And oftentimes you see when the person is living with dementia. They hit a brick wall because they’ve disrupted the space. They, the person may not remember who that CNA or who that nurse is. And so there’s a discomfort there. Creative engagement can help. Frame that interaction in a way that, and to that emotional memory of somebody, it’s something that I discovered early on.
Hanh: [00:07:26] What do you think is a proper framework for creative programming in a care setting? In other words, does it vary if the dementia patient is living at home or at a senior living community?
Kathryne: [00:07:41] I think when we think of creative engagement, um, we need to think that creativity is more than the arts. So, if a person was an accountant, they use creativity in how they approach their job. If they were a school teacher, they’re farmers by that there’s many ways to look at creativity and take [00:08:00] elements of what they loved about their vocation.
[00:08:02] And put it into something you can do together. Sometimes it’s playing cards. I’ve noticed a lot of contents. You give them a deck of cards and we can play. Instead of saying, Oh, we have to go play bingo. That may not be as engaging as playing with cards. But the other side of that is also, there seems to be this unfortunately growing trend of labeling everything as therapy.
Hanh:[00:10:32] What is the role, perhaps [00:10:35] this goes in line, what you’ve already started to talk about, but what is the role of the arts to transform the current narrative of dementia and aging?
Kathryne: [00:10:44] Yeah, so the arts pulling it back on a broader scale. When we look at how dimension aging is portrayed. In all forms of media, we had a movie, a television show, uh, a lyric in a song, a journalist on TV. [00:11:00] The arts and creativity have the ability to take this negative narrative that we currently see time and time again.
[00:11:08] And the joking of getting all the joking of, Oh, if I get dementia, just kill me off the arts, reframing that and putting a new narrative front of its audience, whether they’re listening to it or watching it. Can over time, change that. And we can finally do that. Oh, there is joy in dementia. Oh, there is a way that we can live fully alive, no matter what.
Hanh: [00:19:05] how can connect the bill with people with dementia specifically to letter writing
Kathryne: [00:19:13] letter writing has been the platform that a lot of my work has been over the last few years when I was still working as less merchant specialist.
Kathryne: [00:19:21] I recognize that there were some people living with dementia or not that. Wanted to share their story, but didn’t know how we’re afraid to talk because they couldn’t share their story in a linear way, or they were afraid they were going to forget some things. And I noticed that there was also a lot of talk about reminiscing, about the letters that were exchanged amongst family members.
Kathryne: [00:19:45] Be it a soldier. Off at war and the anticipation of receiving a letter back or with grandchildren or sending postcards to family. And so, I wanted to tap into love of letter writing and also the [00:20:00] desire to share their story. And so, I created. A life enrichment program that I titled the dementia matters project.
Kathryne: [00:22:14] so it’s a great tool. It’s a very simple tool, pen and paper see magazines, and it’s something that you can keep private, or you can send off and share with others. And I noticed that. During that time there’s sometimes we try to overcomplicate our interactions, especially those living with dementia that needs to be, we need to bring in this scientific proven program, or we need to do this.
Hanh: You don’t want to learn this firsthand. You want to be prepared and correct and honor and celebrate their lives. Okay.
Hanh: [00:23:45] Do you have anything else that you would like to share?
Kathryne: [00:23:47] I don’t think so. I guess if people want to get in touch with me, they are more than welcome to do that. Obviously, things are all virtual right now, but I have moved my entire portfolio, my entire [00:24:00] art then online. If they want to learn more about how to write letters with loved ones, they can reach out to me if they’re interested in having training and creative engagement, because it is something that.