Editor’s Note: Learn about starting a dementia-friendly program at Discovery 2017. Register today.
Every second Monday of the month, a small group gathers at Seattle’s Taproot Theatre for an improv theater workshop. One minute, students have a lively discussion using facial expressions, gestures, and “gibberish” language. In the next, they pass imaginary gifts around a circle, each recipient deciding on the spot what they are unwrapping and exclaiming over the new diamond necklace, tennis racket or puppy. Laughter ensues.
While this may look like any other improv theater workshop, it is unique in one aspect – it is designed for people with memory loss. And it’s a great success.
“Improv is all about saying ‘yes’ to whatever happens in the moment in creative play,” notes instructor Pam Nolte. “The improv teacher guides while the students with memory loss do the creative work, excelling with areas of memory that still function well. The end result is a feeling of accomplishment in a class filled with smiles and social connection.”
Meanwhile, just down the street at Woodland Park Zoo, people with memory loss and their loved ones come together on Mondays and Wednesdays to walk, enjoy zoo exhibits, and share stories from the week. The walking group, sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, Greenwood Senior Center and Seattle Parks and Recreation, has been offered for over five years.
While the chance to feed the penguins or glimpse a baby gorilla may be the initial draw, it is the strong social bonds that keep people coming back. One participant notes, “I don’t really have family. But my friends here, they are my family.”
Across town on First Hill, Cherry Street Food Bank hosts a monthly community service opportunity for people with memory loss. Volunteers often work in pairs to complete accessible tasks – for example, repackaging bulk quantities of rice, beans or oatmeal by scooping them into smaller bags.
“This program gives people with memory loss the chance to help others,” states facilitator Charlie Reidy. “The food we’re packaging today, it gets passed out tomorrow. We’re making a difference.”
Volunteer Tim Harmon agrees: “I went because I was looking for an opportunity to give back. I felt very useful, and that was fulfilling for me.”
Improv theatre, zoo walks, and food bank volunteerism. These opportunities and many more are part of Momentia, a grassroots movement empowering people with memory loss and their loved ones to stay active and connected in the community.
Based in the Seattle area, Momentia is stewarded by a team of community members and organizations. This team acts as a resource to those who want to get involved in the movement, and supports a website which lists a monthly calendar of local activities – from Alzheimer’s Cafes to art gallery tours.
In recent years, Momentia has been spreading throughout the state. For example, north of Seattle, Edmonds Center for the Arts offers a dementia-inclusive series with activities like sing-alongs and folk dancing. Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo hosts a weekly memory loss zoo walk.
Meanwhile, the UW Memory & Brain Wellness Center is spearheading a process called “Momentia in My Neighborhood” in which community members design their own dementia-friendly programs. A variety of south Snohomish County organizations are working through this process right now, preparing to host a community forum on March 29.
“People in the area are aware of what is happening in Seattle, and want to see the same opportunities up here,” states Ruth Egger with Senior Services of Snohomish County. “We’re excited to make that happen.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Momentia movement or bringing dementia-friendly programs to your own community, the list of tips on the Momentia website is a great place to start. For additional training, attend the Momentia workshop – Connecting and Empowering Persons with Dementia and Their Care Partners: How to Start Dementia-Friendly Programs in Your Community – at the Alzheimer’s Association Discovery Conference on Friday, April 7!
Marigrace Becker, M.S.W. is Program Manager of Community Education and Impact, at the University of Washington Medicine Memory and Brain Wellness Center. Ms. Becker develops educational, support and engagement programs that promote living well with dementia. She also champions community initiatives that challenge stigma and build understanding. As a member of the Momentia Seattle Stewardship Team, she leads the Dementia-Friendly Communities project team for the Dementia Action Collaborative implementing the Washington State Plan to Address Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias.