Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are hard to live with. The loss of memory, communication skills, and other functional abilities can be devastating for patients and for the people who love and care for them. At the same time, there is a growing recognition of how vital it is to continue experiencing the joys and pleasures of life and relationships, even while coping with the emotional, physical, and financial toll Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can take.
I was reminded of this last year when I saw this video from Lisa Abeyta, a woman whose dad has Alzheimer’s, of her father interacting with the family dog. I also thought of the thousands of times over ten years that an elderly acquaintance of mine sat with his wife, an Alzheimer’s patient in a Bronx institution, singing her the songs she loved even though she had lost the ability to outwardly respond.
As our population ages and the number of people with dementia grows, new therapeutic recreational programs are being created to serve them – everything from visits with therapy animals, to gardening, poetry and music programs. This can only be a good thing for both patients and caregivers; faced with so much loss, moments of enjoyment can ease the strain and mean a great deal in the long run.
In New York City, there are many such opportunities. Caring Kind, which until last year was known as the NYC Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, does essential work offering support groups, education, and social services to individuals and families affected by dementia, as well as training for professionals. Recognizing the importance of engaging people with dementia and their caregivers in enjoyable activities, the organization created the “Connect to Culture” program, which supports museums and other cultural venues in developing programs for people with dementia and their caregivers.
Some of the many current Connect to Culture offerings are:
• The Unforgettables Chorus: An opportunity to sing and socialize for people with dementia and their caregivers.
• Creative Aging Dance Like Nobody’s Watching: Dancing for older adults with Alzheimer’s/dementia and their caregivers.
• Brooklyn Afternoons: A free program at the Brooklyn Museum that helps people with memory loss and their caregivers explore art together and enjoy each other’s company.
• The Met Cloisters – Sights and Scents: A serene, multi-sensory experience of enclosed gardens, art and architecture from the Middle Ages.
• Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – The Stories Within: Stories of the ship’s history, aircraft, and people who served at home and at sea.
• The Jewish Museum – JM Journeys: Art making and multi–sensory activities.
• Lincoln Center Moments: Free performance programs designed for people with dementia and their caregivers.
Other Connect to Culture programs take place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York Historical Society, Studio Museum of Harlem, Rhythm Break Cares, the Rubin Museum of Art and elsewhere. Full information including locations, schedules, contacts and registration is here.
More ways to find therapeutic recreation
The New York Memory Center’s Memory Arts Café is a series of free cultural events for people living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, their caregivers, and the general public. The Memory Center works with the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project to bring musicians, magicians, poets and dancers to the Café. They also offer outings, such as an upcoming field trip to the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Garden on June 25. The trip includes a garden tour with songs and poems.
Think a therapy dog might be good for your loved one? The Good Dog Foundation offers training for people interested in having their pet become certified. The foundation also brings therapy dogs to group settings, something to consider if your loved one lives in an institutional setting. You can learn more about the program here.
You’re not alone
Nothing can take away the pain and confusion of dementia, which, of course, bring incalculable loss. Still, it’s important to know that, for both the person with dementia and their caregivers, isolation is deadly. Getting out into the world and enjoying life’s moments together can provide a serious antidote to the loneliness and despair that accompany an unpredictable, deteriorative condition that attacks our most vital organs – our brains and our hearts.
If you are the caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s, you may also find our dementia tip sheet useful. And if you are the family caregiver of an ICS member, make sure to ask your loved one’s care manager about our respite policy.