Dementia-friendly Innovations Expand throughout King County

Martha Crawford (left), with Mari Becker, says "I could live here!"

There's something new happening in King County. You may have noticed it in our neighborhood coffee shops, with a sign about a new monthly Alzheimer's Café. Or at the Frye Art Museum, with an arts engagement series tailored for persons living with dementia. Or at the Woodland Park Zoo, with a weekly memory loss walking group. Or at Seattle's Greenwood Public Library, with the start of an early stage memory loss book discussion group.

Throughout our community, a movement is brewing. It's a movement—momentia—transforming what it means to live with dementia in community, changing the story from one of fear and isolation to one of hope, connection, and finding joy in the moment.

This movement recognizes the strengths and gifts of our friends, family members and neighbors who live with dementia, and is exhibited by the growing number of dementia-friendly opportunities abounding in public and cultural venues. It's a movement propelled by persons living with dementia, as well as organizations like Elderwise, Full Life Care, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Taproot Theatre, the Frye Art Museum, the Alzheimer's Association, Greenwood Senior Center, West Seattle Senior Center, Southeast Seattle Senior Center, and more. It's a movement in which we can all take part.

Momentia participants and community volunteers enjoy a delicious lunch with produce grown at the urban farm.

While innovative dementia-friendly programming is taking place throughout the area, one of the most interesting outcomes emerged from a community-development process in southeast Seattle. Last December, a small group of persons who live with dementia, care partners, and organizations came together to discover what kinds of dementia-friendly programs might best reflect the interests in the neighborhood. Representatives from Southeast Seattle Senior Center, Seattle Parks and Recreation's Lifelong Recreation Programs, Elderwise, and Full Life Care facilitated the gathering, while persons living with dementia demonstrated their interests and then suggested ways to turn a passion into a community-based program.

Some of the top recommendations included a drum circle, a multi-media performance showcasing the strengths of persons with dementia, and a volunteer program involving gardening. As time moved along, this group continued to meet and develop these ideas. Within a few months, the group connected with the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands and launched its first dementia-friendly program in the area—a monthly volunteer program on the farm.

Care partners like Daphne Jones enjoy gardening, too.

The program welcomes persons living with dementia, family, and friends to join in the regular Friday volunteer program hosted by Seattle Tilth. With support from MSW intern Bo Lee, Elderwise, and Seattle Parks and Recreation, adaptations were made to include both seated and active volunteer tasks that provide a successful and meaningful volunteer experience for persons living with dementia.

From planting seeds, to removing bindweed, to watering peppers, the farm offers an abundance of opportunities. Produce from the farm supports Seattle Tilth's programs like community kitchens and nutrition education in schools.

Beyond the chance to give back—one of the things persons living with dementia often report missing from their lives, with the loss of work and/or accessible volunteer opportunities—the farm offers a peaceful environment in which volunteers can connect with nature and enjoy the simple pleasures of getting dirt underneath their fingernails, tasting the burst of flavor in a ground cherry, or breathing in the fresh air.

After volunteering, participants come together with the variety of other community volunteers, including high school students and Ethiopian elders, and enjoy a delicious lunch prepared using produce from the farm.

Southeast Seattle residents with dementia, their care partners, and organizations came together to discover what kinds of dementia-friendly programs might best reflect the interests in the neighborhood.

Martha Crawford, who participated in the original design meetings, holds particular fondness for the farm. Having worked in reforestation as a young adult, she enjoys the opportunity to be out in nature, helping out. After the first volunteer session, when asked if she wanted to come back again, Martha quipped, "I could live here!" Others note the peace of being out in nature even in an urban setting, and the chance to connect with new people.

This program had its last session of the season in September and aims to restart again in the spring 2015. But other opportunities for persons living with dementia to connect, create, be active, and give back continue to expand. For a sample of local community-based dementia-friendly programs, see www.momentiacalendar.com. To find out more about any of the opportunities, click on a calendar item and contact the host organization.

Ready to get involved in momentia, the movement to transform what it means to live with dementia in community? Consider promoting the movement by sharing info with your friends and co-workers, volunteering for a community-based program, or sponsoring a new or ongoing program. Together, we can make an enormous difference!

Contributor Marigrace Becker coordinates Seattle Parks and Recreation's Dementia-Friendly Recreation programs, a part of the growing movement to transform Seattle into a vibrant, dementia-friendly community. She completed her MSW in 2010 from University of Washington with a focus in aging, and has worked with a variety of local senior-focused agencies, including Greenwood Senior Center, Full Life Care and Elderwise. For more information, contact Marigrace at 206-684-4664 or mari.becker@seattle.gov.