Alburnett man's project helps drive through dementia
New video series guides patients on path to serenity
When Wayne Anderson sets out for a Sunday drive, he hopes his passengers will find peace, spark a conversation or even fall asleep.
It’s all about the journey, not the destination.
Anderson, 66, of Alburnett, a retired videographer and photographer, is the guiding force behind “Sunday Drive,” a series of four two-hour rides through verdant Midwest countryside, meandering into farm scenes, lakes and small towns. Each disc is broken up into segments lasting 4 to 37 minutes. Some scenes are iconic, like the bridges of Madison County and the Iowa State Capitol. Disc 4 takes viewers to Sweden, a country of heritage for pockets of Midwesterners.
The pace is slow, on purpose. The videos are designed for people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, brain injury, autism and residents of assisted living facilities. Folks for whom car rides may be a pleasant piece of the past, but still can bring peace to their present. The background music is culled from cinematic scores, nondescript in nature.
“A lot of people are doing music therapies, and they use ‘era’ music — ’60s, ’40s, ’30s — to stimulate memory. My purpose is not to stimulate memory, necessarily — just to give these people a sense of being, some entertainment, something enjoyable,” said Anderson, who also is an accomplished vocalist and has performed with area choral ensembles and theater troupes.
“So I decided to use generic cinema background music — music that’s in all movies, but you never really think about it. It simply brings up your emotions, or brings up your sense of feeling, and that’s all I used — nothing specific, but most people will think ‘that sounds like that movie I saw.’ It’s my understanding that if they hear era music, they can become either sad because it reminds them of somebody they lost, or very happy because of somebody they’re thinking of or knew, and I didn’t want it to go that way,” he said.
“Turns out, that’s been very successful and one of the things that’s made ‘Sunday Drive’ even more successful, because it’s more of a meditative process. A couple of CEOs purchased ‘Sunday Drive’ for their desk and watch it after sitting at a computer all day or during lunch, put it on and sort of zzz out for a little bit, and then they move on.”
A conversation with a farmer planted the seed for the project in the summer of 2014. Anderson was working on a marketing project for an assisted living and memory unit, when a resident came up to him and struck up a conversation, asking about his farm, crops and family. Anderson didn’t know him, but intrigued, asked him if he gets out much.
“He said, ‘No, we’re trapped here. They won’t let us out.’”
So Anderson asked the facilities director about the situation, and learned that once residents are in the memory care unit, liability issues mean they can’t leave without a trained staff member, even if they’re going out with family, and some people aren’t even able to go out at all for an afternoon jaunt.
Sunday afternoon drives were a pleasant part of Anderson’s youth, going over to a cousin’s house, or to a riverbank or to look at new construction. “That was our social media,” he said with a laugh.
And the project was born.
He consulted with memory care experts at Corridor hospitals, as well as state and local Alzheimer’s associations and other professionals to develop his plan. With 48 years in the video and photo industry locally and through his military stint, he already had the technical production skills. He also enlisted his two daughters to help with graphic design, DVD duplication and to serve as his sounding board for ideas.
Then he just started driving around lakes, streams and parks, with a camera mounted safely on the dashboard. A year later, he handed a finished “drive” video to that facilities director, who played it for the residents, then told Anderson that “they just loved it.” They were responding, interacting and talking.
“He said, ‘We really need something like this, because we never can get them calmed down enough at night so they can get a good night’s sleep. We end up showing them an old movie.’
“But people living with dementia can’t follow the plot — the scenes go by so fast,” Anderson said. “They can’t follow the visuals because of their condition. They need to see the image for more than several seconds before they can even identify it.”
So when he’s editing his drives, he sometimes needs to slow the pace by about 50 percent or do a freeze-frame to let an image sit still long enough for viewers to process it. That can make the videos a “tough sell” to family members or caregivers.
“They seem slow, even lugubrious, for a ‘normal’ person, but for the person living with dementia, they have a chance to actually see something and recognize it,” rather than miss the scenes zipping by in the fast pace of television shows or films. He also takes into account the changing eyesight of people with dementia, who may lose peripheral vision.
The response has been inspiring, Anderson said, as he hears of people interacting for the first time in a long time.
“One story in particular,” he noted. “Two older gentlemen who were apparently farmers, and they just never said anything to each other or anybody. That’s part of the Alzheimer’s, how you can become very stoic and non-communicative. I have one picture while driving through the Amanas, there was large, green John Deere combine coming at me, so I had to pull over to the side of the road to let it pass. That was one of the visuals on the screen. One guy looked and said, ‘Hey, that’s my tractor up there.’ The other guy, who happened to be walking by, said, ‘I’m a red man (referring to the color of his tractor). I don’t like (the other brand) — they’re no good.’ And they got in conversation about farming and about tractors, and the staff person I was talking to said she was awe-struck, because they never talked. They never said anything.
In another instance, a “drive” video was being shown to a group of women. “One of them said, ‘That’s my sister’s house right there. Can we stop?’ The staff person was kind enough to pause the DVD, and said, ‘She’s not home. We’ll just have to come back later.’”
The resident said, “OK” and started talking about her sister’s nice garden, then started talking to lady next to her about gardens and family.
Anderson’s website — http://sunday-drive.info/comments.html — also contains testimonials from family and staff, calling the videos “a great tool.”
Anderson calls the project a “labor of love.” He’s not getting rich off it, but through DVD sales and a GoFundMe site, he is beginning to recoup some of his early out-of-pocket expenses, including $8,000 for music rights and additional production costs. Each video takes about 60 hours to edit, and other costs encompass gas to fuel the drives, expenses on the road, and DVD duplication costs.
He spent all winter at his computer, weaving together video and still photos, and his goal is to have at least 20 videos in his collection.
The word is beginning to spread. He’s been invited to speak to area service organizations and make presentations at Alzheimer’s- and other health care meetings and seminars.
Over the summer, he’s begun working on “Sunday Strolls,” taking viewers to Lake Okoboji and a car museum there, as well as to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and a farmers market in Hiawatha. People who see him out with his new toy, a stabilizer for his hand-held camera, or know of his projects, are quick to offer suggestions for future visits.
“Everybody keeps coming up with new ideas,” he said, from tractor museums and antiques shopping to filming free-range chickens on a farm.
So far, his treks have taken him through Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, but he’d like to branch out to a Michigan beach. Always, he’s careful to only show safe passages that won’t alarm viewers or make them agitated. No driving along cliffs or city traffic or slick roads. He’s also considering adding bike tours, but has to first figure out how to keep the camera steady enough to make for smooth viewing.
“So far, for ‘Sunday Drive’ alone, I have amassed some 54 hours of HD video, and nearly 7,000 photos to mold into the various 90- to 120-minute DVDs,” he said. “That grows weekly on top of my now 19 Terabytes of photos not directly related to ‘Sunday Drive.’ It’s turning into a lovable elephant and requires a lot of organizing to keep things straight and not lose any files.”
He sees this project as the legacy of his nearly half-century of capturing images on camera. And while he does not have Alzheimer’s, he hopes to see an end to his mission.
“I’d love to be put out of business,” he said, “if we get this horrific disease eradicated somehow.”
AT A GLANCE
What: “Sunday Drive” DVDs
Audience: People with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, brain injury and residents in assisted living facilities; to mimic a rejuvenating drive through the countryside
Cost: $29.95 for one, $49.95 for two, $79.95 for three or $99.95 for full set of four at Sunday-drive.info/drives.html; also at Amazon.com
Details: Wayne Anderson, (319) 842-2654 or Sunday-drive.info