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Certified Facilitator Spotlight: Catherine Livingstone

Dec 20, 2021

Catherine Livingstone, MA, CDCP is a former LTC Recreation Coordinator and the founder of the Canadian social enterprise company The Opal Season Company. She works virtually with families and organizations across North America to support older adults and people living with dementia by curating meaningful inter-abled engagement opportunities. As of 2021 she is a proud TimeSlips Certified Facilitator.

Tell our readers about yourself: your passion/vocation/education, where you are engaged in the community, and how you came to learn about TimeSlips. It’s interesting! Like many people who have embraced TimeSlips, I actually don’t come from a clinical background. For over 20 years I worked as a curator with cultural institutions, museums, and galleries across Canada. I have a Master’s in History and even pursued PhD work before focusing exclusively on curatorial work.

But during that time I was always interested in age-inclusive programming. There are lots of curiosity-driven cultural programs for children, but not much for older adults. The latter tends to be a continuing education-lecture model which can be intimidating, and not always conducive to fostering social interaction or relationship-building.

It was after I moved to the Canadian Arctic that I pivoted into Recreational Therapy with the Dementia Facility there – and discovered a new passion: supporting people living with brain change. It turns out my skill set was a surprisingly helpful asset to the team! I knew how to find specific art, music, activities or improvisation to help CNA’s with everything from mealtime to getting residents dressed.

So it’s no surprise that when I stumbled onto Dr. Basting’s TEDMED talk online that her philosophy really resonated with me. When I formed my own social enterprise company (The Opal Season Company), consulting with families, local organizations and care groups on best practices for cognitive engagement, I knew becoming a TimeSlips Facilitator had to be a part of that journey.

What is one of the biggest joys you have experienced so far? My social enterprise is mission-driven to support rural and Indigenous Canadians, as we know these groups typically receive inequitable care in this area. Early in the pandemic, I worked with an Indigenous group in Alberta to create a dementia education resource for their senior population. We ‘translated’ clinical language into a First Nations-led metaphor of traditional animals (like moose, caribou and bears) to explain therapy-based goals and activities. Supporting communities with culturally-safe care models and ways of re-thinking the ‘status quo’ medical system has been one of the most joyous parts of merging creativity and care.

We understand you are doing work with isolated elders who reside in rural Canadian provinces. Can you tell us how TimeSlips is woven into that? What was the initial reaction as you planned it vs. the real-time reaction after the creative engagement was held? (Rumor has it there's now a waiting list?) Many don’t realize how vast the Canadian landscape actually is! [laughing] Many of our seniors are in rural and remote locations, and the climate, the long winters – that can make isolation a challenge, along with the resulting health implications. So I was thrilled to collaborate with a local chapter of Seniors’ Centre Without Walls, a non-profit that runs programs solely through the telephone in an attempt to foster social connections.

It’s a ‘Zoom-free zone’ that utilizes a system like the old shared party lines. Everyone phones a central line, and hops into the conversation. I was wondering how an art appreciation program might go with over twenty people who I couldn’t see, but it was surprisingly seamless!

We partnered with a well-known museum and art gallery to explore a number of artworks by early 20th-century Canadian painter David Milne, whose landscapes embody the transition between realism and abstract expressionism. Some of them were quite challenging for a group who insisted they weren’t “creative”… It was the perfect chance to utilize my TimeSlips skills!

Prior to the program, we mailed out hard copies of the art, pre-packaged in sealed envelopes to be opened each week, along with a small selection of art supplies. We approached the pieces through a blend of storytelling, Beautiful Questions and validating/echoing responses. At the end of each session, I re-read the story we had created about that week’s piece, and then I left the group with homework of open ended art-prompts, like: Use your watercolours to create an ‘angry’ prairie sky. Or find your favourite tree (everyone has one!) and sketch what it looks like reflected in water.

But the best part of the program was the real-time excitement generated each week when it came time to open the ‘secret envelope’ of art. One participant said it gave her something to look forward to, like Christmas Morning! I think this is the kind of important anticipatory wonder that Dr Basting talks about. And the awe we explored as a group was two-fold: both in the artwork itself, and in the nature I encouraged people to look at with a critical aesthetic eye over the week.

This year I’m leading two more sessions with that group: one with a theme of ‘Birds and Air’ represented by a number of different Canadian artists, and one featuring ‘Plough and Earth’, featuring agricultural images.

Any other final thoughts? I’m so glad to be able to leverage my past experiences to serve a new demographic. Museums, galleries and archives are – by their very nature – places driven by awe and wonder. They connect you to something “beyond” yourself. I couldn’t quite understand why places where we house our elders are the complete opposite of these rich repositories of our human stories. Wouldn’t these places be exactly the kind of place where we would want to spend this season of our lives, reflecting on, and being cradled in, wonder?

I hope the future of elder care embraces these new frameworks of thinking. Not to be too laboured about it [laughing], but I believe there is a place for Picasso, Plato, and Paganini alongside all our talk of proteins and plaques. They’re not mutually exclusive, and I feel like we’re doing an odd disservice to the human experience to think otherwise. I’m thrilled to be able to be part of the TimeSlips community and move us closer to this hopeful new reality.