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Dementia Patient Engagement
In the Seattle area, a number of pioneering programs have been developed to help individuals suffering from dementia remain active, including the Greenwood Senior Center’s “Alzheimer’s Café,” (phinneycenter.org/gsc or alz.org). Individuals with dementia—along with their care partners—gather every second Tuesday of the month at the center’s Ampersand Pantry and Café for camaraderie, singing and conversation. The program is free and open to the public.
“There is no speaker; support happens by virtue of people being there and understanding what you are going through,” explains Cecily Kaplan of the Greenwood Senior Center, a program of the Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Association. “There is a lot of conversation, a lot of laughing.” The program also includes sing-alongs of folk tunes. “That’s quite magical because music captures people’s memories even if other memories are lost,” she says.
The Greenwood Senior Center also hosts The Gathering Place for individuals who are in the early stages of memory loss. “These are people who can still be very engaged and enriched,” says Kaplan. “Some are probably not working anymore, but they are still able and want to be involved and enriched and have meaningful connections.”
Activities include art appreciation, mental games, and some form of movement exercise such as yoga or tai chi. Participation in The Gathering Place is limited to eight people and individuals must be in the early stages of dementia.
For care partners who need some respite, several organizations in the Seattle area offer adult day centers, including Elderwise (elderwise.org), a grassroots organization founded in 1997 by Sandy Sabersky, who “wanted to meet frail elders in their wholeness,” says Jeanette Ruby who recently stepped into Sabersky’s long-held position as executive director of the organization.
The adult day programs that take place inside the Horizon House (horizonhouse.org) on First Hill are intimate groups of as many as eight participants, and feature facilitated conversation and creative time, such as watercolor painting or music. The programming also includes movement exercises, contemplation time and a traditional, vegetarian served lunch. Participants can attend from one to five days a week, but must attend the same day(s) weekly, so they develop a regular social circle.
Art activities are structured around a theme—such as the intricacies of a flower or the variations of the clouds in a sunbreak, focusing on “things that are readily accessible in the moment, not calling upon memory bases; making connections in the moment. Similarly for guided conversation, it could be anything from societal changes to parenting to what it means to lose someone close to you,” explains Ruby. “We truly try to tap into a much more fundamental place that is not necessarily dependent upon cognitive memory.…Something magical happens in this facilitated community; participants feel fuller.”
Elderwise and the Alzheimer’s Association have also partnered with Frye Art Museum’s Here:now art-focused program. The program gives individuals with dementia and their care partners opportunities to enjoy conversation, works of art, and new experiences in the First Hill museum.
Designed for individuals with early- to mid-stage dementia, Here:now includes monthly gallery discussion tours, as well as a six-week gallery tour and art making classes. “We invite up to six couples for the tour, and the class is for five couples,” says Mary Jane Kinect, manager of adult programs for the Frye. “It’s an opportunity for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their care partners to share the experience of art together, away from the challenges of Alzheimer’s.” T.K.