According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 68 seconds someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s estimated that by 2050 someone will be diagnosed every 33 seconds. It’s hard to change the statistics regarding memory loss, but Seattle Parks and Recreation is trying to change the memory loss story.
“We are part of the movement to transform what it means to be living with dementia,” Recreation Specialist Mari Becker said. “We’re telling a new story, not a story of fear, but a story of hope.”
Last year Seattle Parks began walks for persons with memory loss and watercolor classes, and this spring the department will work with community partners to offer a variety of dementia-friendly programs across the city.
Becker said the participants in the pilot activities appreciated the social aspect of the programs. “Living with memory loss doesn’t have to mean staying at home, feeling isolated,” she said. “It’s important for people to be active, connect with other people and feel like they’re still able to contribute to society.”
This month, Seattle Parks hosted dementia expert Teepa Snow and the home healthcare business CareForce at Jefferson Community Center to teach staff and community members the skills needed to work with persons with memory loss.
“Someone came up to me and said ‘Seattle Parks and Recreation and dementia? That’s an interesting combination,’” CareForce owner Sam Miller said. “I love that comment because it gives Seattle an opportunity to shine. We’re giving everybody in the community an opportunity to interact with people with dementia.”
Snow said the reason dementia is becoming such an issue is because the baby boomers are reaching their mid-60s and the number of people exhibiting signs of memory loss is growing rapidly. She said that 10 percent of people age 65 have some sort of dementia brewing.
Snow said it’s easy to want to correct people suffering from memory loss or, as a caretaker, to become overwhelmed or frustrated. “The goal of a conversation with somebody is not to be right, but to allow yourself to establish a relationship,” she said.
Becker agreed and wants Seattle Parks to help lead that positive narrative. She pushed for a task force to be created in 2013 to explore what successful programming for people with memory loss could look like. She is preparing for a full launch of Dementia-Friendly Recreation in 2015.
“It’s so great that we’re all learning how to better communicate with persons with dementia and how to keep them better engaged in life,” Becker said.