Nora’s Corner

Nora Gibson

Creating a Dementia-Friendly Seattle

Many of you know that my mom, Joan Gibson, passed away from Alzheimer’s disease the end of last September. So many of you sent cards of condolence that warmed my heart. Thanks so much. She was a wonderful woman and mother to 10 children.

Since that time I and Full Life Care have become involved with a wonderful movement that is working to change the way dementia is perceived in our community. Its roots stem from the passions of many people living with Alzheimer’s disease and the efforts of long-time social worker Carin Mack, Cecily Kaplan, director of the Greenwood Senior Center, and Marigrace Becker, my former student and now a social worker based out of Seattle Parks & Recreation. Many others are rallying around this cause.

The movement started quietly with an Alzheimer’s Café sponsored by the Greenwood Senior Center. Launched at the now-defunct Mae’s Phinney Ridge Café before settling in at its current home at Ampersand Pantry & Café, the Alzheimer’s Café model helps facilitate enriching experiences for persons with dementia and their care partners. Every month, in a normal social environment, attendees have the opportunity to enjoy the company of others over food and drink. The café often closes with live music. It’s also an environment free from stigma: nobody’s terribly concerned if someone happens to reach over, uninvited, to sample off of another person’s plate.

Full Life has jumped in and sponsors monthly Alzheimer’s Cafés at three venues: Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Columbia City, Luther’s Table in Renton, and  Pagliacci Pizza in Edmonds. These cafes offer a special, easy-to-read short menu of popular choices, including one of my favorites, wine. On a side note, my mother loved chardonnay and enjoyed a glass or two almost every day. When she was close to the end, she couldn’t hold the glass without shaking, and even reached the point where she couldn’t lift it to her mouth. Recognizing the dilemma while visiting her grandmother, my daughter, Anne, would jump up from Joan’s side and return with a straw. Joan promptly slurped that wine down. Anne told me, “Now I know what I’m going to do with you, Mom.”

The Alzheimer’s Café concept is spreading quickly, with more people living with dementia willing and eager to come out and enjoy life in public settings.  Along with the cafes, there are other dementia-friendly opportunities like the here:now program at the Frye Art Museum, improv at Taproot Theatre, and dementia-friendly programs through Seattle Parks & Recreation.

The name of the movement is “Momentia,” a term coined by Marigrace. So far the movement is fueled by volunteer time and the efforts of many non-profits passionate about helping people living with dementia to remain engaged in the community. Mari has even penned a rap, performed live with people living with dementia who jump out from behind a screen and shout, “I’m still here!”

Perhaps what touched me the most about this movement are the people living with the disease who have stepped forward. One gentleman, Roger Stocker, a former architect just one year my senior at age 62, has early-onset Alzheimer’s. He came to a meeting to help choose a venue for a Momentia celebration. He was filled with humor and warmth and opinions. We visited one dark venue that looked like the mob might frequent it. He liked the idea of “The Momentia Mob,” but the room was too dim. After that, we visited a “swanky” room at the Sorrento Hotel. We went with “swanky.”

When talking about the work he used to do, he says, “This is my work now. I have to get the word out while I still can.” He has developed an anti-stigma campaign that he speaks about whenever there is an opportunity. He is a very brave man.

As I prepare for the possibility of my own dementia, I’ll be working hard to make Seattle a dementia-friendly place.

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