Tag Archives: Carl Jung

Fighting Dementia With Coloring Books

June 15, 2017 by
Illustration by Mady Besch

Remember getting an unopened box of crayons—for school, for a birthday, just for fun? Remember the smell of the wax? The new, sharp points? Choosing your favorite color?

Most people would answer “Yes.” Coloring, whether as a kindergarten assignment or a rainy-day project, brings about happy memories for most people. It is those pleasant memories that have triggered a surge of popularity in adult coloring books.

Coloring was often a way for kids to stay entertained for hours, focused on filling in the lines on a piece of paper. That is one reason why therapists are now turning to coloring books for people with dementia.

“In my experience, the most helpful reason is because it is a focusing tool,” says Maggie Hock, a licensed mental health practitioner and owner of Bellevue Psychological.

Actually, the concept of coloring as an exercise to focus and relax is not new. Psychologist Carl Jung had his patients color mandalas, or geometric patterns, used to express the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. In these traditions, the creation of a mandala helps with meditation.

Intricate circular patterns might be too complicated for dementia patients, depending on the stage of the dementia. Coloring books can be found online or at bookstores, and subjects range from World War II warships to classic movie posters and more. Those with historical subjects may be the best for dementia patients.

“Commonly in Alzheimer’s, older memories are intact,” says Dr. Daniel L. Murman, director of the behavioral and geriatric neurology program at UNMC. Merman says memories of doing things as a child often remain while memories of five to 10 years ago fade away.

“Memories from childhood are stored in a different part of the brain,” Murman says, noting that the act of coloring taps “into an area of strength, where people would potentially have fond memories of coloring and be able to participate in and enjoy the activity.”

Hock says people with dementia have difficulty focusing because the world around them is confusing and distracting. Handing a person with dementia a coloring book and coloring utensils gives them a purpose and takes them out of the confusion for a while.

Murman adds that even if they are not experiencing dementia, keeping active mentally and physically will help older people. And if someone does, in fact, have dementia, staying active can help preserve neural connections, which stimulates the brain and may help slow down the progression of the disorder.

While solving crossword or Sudoku puzzles may produce the same focus in people in less advanced stages, coloring has the added benefit of chromotherapy, or color therapy. Colors have different meanings for us as individuals. Someone who was forced to wear brown clothes as a child and hated them may still feel a strong dislike for the color brown. Someone who received a set of primary-colored blocks as a birthday gift might color only in primary colors.

Hock says letting someone with dementia color certainly won’t do harm, no matter how advanced the stage.

“It’s always worth a try,” Hock says, “to see what would engage them.”

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Sixty-Plus, a periodical within Omaha Magazine.

Dream Weaver

June 17, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally published in May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

As Orenda Fink awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, she found herself transformed into a 15-year-older version of herself.

The Kafkaesque revelation, which was triggered by the death of her beloved dog, Wilson, sent the dream-pop singer-songwriter, then 36, tumbling into existential despair.

“I didn’t really have anywhere close to an idea of a concrete framework for thinking about death—I just never really thought about it,” says Fink, now 39, who is also half of the on-again, off-again Saddle Creek Records duo Azure Ray. “You think about it all the time, but you never really think about it.”

Unbeknownst to the grieving dog mom at the time, she says, Fink’s white chihuahua-terrier mix had come to unconsciously symbolize, in a sort of Jungian slip, everything she had experienced throughout most of her 20s and 30s.

So when the arthritic, cancer-ridden Wilson—whom she named after the genius behind The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds—was eventually euthanized, Fink says, it was as if her entire adulthood had been put down, leaving Fink in a deep depression that even anti-depressants couldn’t tame.

“I feel like I died—that something in me died with him,” she says. “He was like a time capsule for all these experiences.”

Despondent, desperately clinging to any clues that could define who she was, how she fit into the cosmos, Fink did what any musician of her caliber would do: She wrote a record. But before her third solo offering, Blue Dream, could manifest, Fink would have to endure a yearlong journey into the darkest parts of her being and extract, through dream therapy, answers that she says had always been with her.

“I am walking down the street, wrangling three dogs with no leashes,” Fink writes in her dream journal just after she began therapy in 2013. “The first dog is Wilson as a puppy, the second dog is Wilson old and infirmed. The third dog, the most haunting, is Wilson as a white blur of a dog with no discernible edges or lines.”

Fink says her first vivid dream about her dog started a night or two prior to her first therapy session. Each dream thereafter included Wilson in some form or another, she says, symbolically conveying messages that she’d then decode with professional help.

“The therapy started with dreams and it ended with dreams. All we talked about were dreams throughout the course of the year,” Fink says about opting to heal her depression solely through Jungian dream therapy.

The self-described Type-A Virgo, already prone to anxiety and impatience, says she furiously wrote in her prescribed dream journal with the sense that she was communicating with her collective unconscious, or the pool of cumulative knowledge that psychiatrist Carl Jung believed (or “knew,” as Fink points out he’d say) was inherent in all of humankind.

“It was just a phenomenal process,” she says. “Because when I got it, when I understood what the message was, it was immediate sobbing, weeping—transcendent sobbing.”

During her spiritual awakening, Fink says she started writing music again, which had become an almost lost art form to her in the wake of Wilson’s death.

“All of a sudden, I had this little pile of songs that I realized were about what I had just gone through, and it was essentially the whole story,” she says.

Fink named her aural tale Blue Dream, which she released on Saddle Creek Records in 2014. The polished yet surreal eulogy to Wilson—and to her former self—plays like the soundtrack to a lost episode of David Lynch’s early-‘90s serial drama Twin Peaks.

The woeful tunes were produced by Ben Brodin (Mal Madrigal, McCarthy Trenching, Our Fox, The Mynabirds) and Fink’s husband, Todd Fink (The Faint), who says he witnessed his wife overcome much of her distress through the album-creating process and her discovery of a universal, timeless consciousness. The Faint front man says he was initially skeptical of what he calls Fink’s “prophetic dreams,” but that those days are now long gone.

“I think it makes perfect sense to look for answers in your dreams when you have a relationship with your subconscious like she does,” says Todd. “I’m just glad she found what she needed.”

With an oversaturated music-producing market, including technological advances that have facilitated the production and distribution of songs, Fink’s next battle might take place well below the apex of self-actualization on the hierarchy-of-needs pyramid. But food, shelter, and…well, a good life…won’t be hard to find as a working musician, Fink says, just so long as she can stay true to the artistry of her work and keep it “as pure as possible.”

“I guess I’m just, as hokey as it sounds,” Fink says, “a believer in the universe taking care of you, however that’s supposed to be. If I’m meant to create music and I have things to contribute, then the universe will somehow keep that going.”

OrendaFink