Blog, News

Momentum for Momentia

The Artist Within, January 7 – February 26, 2016 at Seattle City Hall’s Lobby Gallery and Anne Focke Gallery – is not only sharing extraordinary artwork by people who live (and live well) with dementia, we are privileged to be working with an abundance of community partners. These are the organizations whose programs and services are doing so much to enrich the lives of everyone who is touched by dementia.  Momentia is one such group. To learn more, read on.

“Momentum for Momentia”

Originally published in Dimensions, The Newsletter of the University of Washington Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Fall 2015, pages 8-9.

By Marigrace Becker, Program Manager for Community Education & Impact, UW Medicine Memory & Brain Wellness Center

In July of 2015, the Dementia Friendly America initiative was announced at the White House Conference on Aging. The initiative takes important steps to begin carving out a space for people with dementia in the everyday fabric of American life, but here in Seattle, we’ve already started something of our own homespun initiative.

A movement called momentia has begun to catch fire in the Pacific Northwest. Receiving a dementia diagnosis within an “I think, therefore I am” society carries with it very real threats to personal and social identity. In contrast, momentia proclaims that people who live with dementia remain valuable mem­bers of a community and deserve opportunities that reflect that membership—the opportunity to be welcomed as whole persons who demonstrate capacities rather than as defective persons who are defined by deficits, the opportunity to stay connected and enjoy public spaces rather than being socially excluded, and the opportunity to exercise agency and to impact the community for the better rather than losing all authority. With these principles, momentia transforms what it means to live with dementia in community by promoting dementia-friendly public programs in theaters, cafés, parks, libraries, museums, and more—programs that celebrate strengths and that are informed by persons who live with dementia.

The movement is propelled by a team of citizens including people living with dementia, care partners, and other com­munity volunteers, alongside organizations like Greenwood Senior Center, Full Life Care, Elderwise, the Washington State Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and the Frye Art Museum. Today, the Puget Sound region abounds with inclusive dementia-friendly op­portunities, including Alzheimer’s cafés at local coffee shops, volunteer positions at the Cherry Street Food Bank, and even improv theater workshops at Taproot Theatre.

One of the first of these dementia-friendly opportunities was launched by the Frye Art Museum in September 2010. The here:now program at the Frye offers free art gallery tours and art-making classes for people living with dementia and their care partners. Together, family and friends can enjoy an engaging experience in which art, not dementia, is the focus.

Tour facilitators use a method designed to make art accessible for all, asking questions that focus less on specific details, like artistic medium, an artist’s name, or a work’s title, and more on the feel­ings, thoughts, and associations stirred within participants by the art in that moment. All responses are valid. “There is not really a right answer. And that’s very nice,” points out one participant.

Dr. Kristoffer Rhoads, a neuropsychologist who directs the Memory Wellness Program at Virginia Mason Medical Center, often refers patients and families to the Frye program. Dr. Rhoads explains, “The here:now program transcends the label of dementia and its connotations of impairment and loss. We universally hear how important this program has been for people in terms of connecting with each other, the larger community, and their own strengths.”

With the success of the here:now program, the Frye Art Museum has expanded its positive dementia focus to offer a quarterly film experience for persons with dementia—Meet Me at the Movies—as well as several off-site programs.

Meanwhile, across town, the Woodland Park Zoo is the site of a free weekly walking group designed for persons living with memory loss and their care partners. Offered since 2011, this program promotes physical activity and the development of social connections within a stimulating environment. The gathering features a guided walk through zoo exhibits and ends with a social time in the zoo café.

Participant Alice Padilla and her husband Paul have been walking with the group for a few years. They remark that “our favorite part of the zoo walk is the social interaction with the other zoo walkers—being together and accepted for who we are and the feeling that we are family.”

Volunteer walk leader Barry Franklin seconds those feelings: “The walk is first and foremost a social event. It gets people out moving around and sharing stories, care, and support. It’s something dependable in their lives, like a rock they can hold onto.”

Due to high demand, the program has recently started another group on a second day of the week. “The second day is filling up very quickly,” states Katherine Painter, the Early Stage Memory Loss Coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Asso­ciation, “It really highlights how well-received these kind of social engagement programs are in the community.”

Along with opportunities to be creative and stay connected, the Seattle area also boasts adaptive volunteer opportunities in which people who live with dementia can offer their skills and expertise to improve the community. One of the most intrigu­ing of these opportunities emerged through a community development process in South Seattle. Recognizing that many of the programs took place in North Seattle, representatives of the Southeast Seattle Senior Center joined with other organiza­tions to convene a Rainier Valley neighborhood gathering of people living with dementia, as well as their family and friends, to consider local options. Using images of musical instruments, nature, sports, dancing, gardening, cooking, socializing, and more, the group members identified their personal interests and then proposed a volunteer gardening opportunity.

Connecting the dots between this aspiration and other com­munity programs, this coalition of South-enders reached out to Seattle Tilth’s Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands. Then, together, they adapted Tilth’s regular volunteer pro­gram to make it accessible to people living with dementia. As a result of this work, in April 2014, a monthly Fridays at the Farm volunteer experience was launched.

Each Friday session begins with a guided meditation that in­vites participants to be present and to connect to the natural world. Then participants choose volunteer tasks that match their individual skills and interests—from watering pepper plants to removing invasive vines.

Sarah Parkhurst, a volunteer who has attended Fridays at the Farm with her sister, explains that “it’s just such a nice experience to be involved in growing all these vegetables that are used for good in the community.”

Tamara Keefe, Creative Programming Director at Elderwise, em­phasizes, “The desire to volunteer and contribute doesn’t disap­pear with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or dementia.”

After the morning’s work, participants gather around a long table with a diverse mix of other volunteers that typically in­cludes a group of East African elders, youth performing com­munity service, and other Rainier Beach neighbors. Over a delicious meal of farm-fresh produce, connections are formed.

“This piece—connecting within community and bridging backgrounds—there’s a lot of value in that,” states Keefe. “We may share in laughter or song, or we may find out the meaning of someone’s name in their language. We may all have faced challenges for different reasons—for instance, as immigrants or as persons living with dementia. And we find a sense of commonality that’s enlivening.”

From an art museum on First Hill to a zoo on Phinney Ridge and a farm in Rainier Beach, a hopeful message reverberates loud and clear throughout Seattle: people who live with dementia are valuable members of the com­munity. They have unique gifts to offer, and they deserve the opportunity to stay connected, pursue joy, and make a difference in their communities. And this momentia move­ment is still growing. As Keefe declares, “Anything you can think of that you’re involved in—there’s a way to make it inclusive to everyone in our community. We can all be a part of making that happen!”

To volunteer or learn about other dementia-friendly opportunities in the Seattle area, visit the online calendar at www.momentiaseattle.org. View the original article online at: http://depts.washington.edu/adrcweb/news-and-resources/dimensions/.