One of the most frustrating aspects of dementia is the helplessness its sufferers experience. As their memories fragment, it becomes harder to interact with the outside world, let alone feel listened to.
However, various programs have cropped up around the world to help dementia patients stay connected and active in their community. From restaurants to choruses to poetry initiatives, these programs put dementia patients center stage and give them an opportunity to share their gifts with the public.
1. The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders serves dementia awareness
Usually when dining out, patrons expect impeccable, sharp service. But at one restaurant in Japan, diners are asked to throw their typical eatery expectations out the window — and patrons love it.
Launched in 2017, Japan’s Restaurant of Mistaken Orders has become a viral hit thanks to its unique wait staff, all of whom have dementia or other cognitive impairments.
According to the Japanese government website Go Japan, two-thirds of Japanese with dementia live at home, which can be an isolating experience.
“The restaurant is not about whether orders are executed incorrectly or not,” Shiro Oguni, creator of the pop-up restaurant, told Go Japan. “The important thing is the interaction with people who have dementia.”
The restaurant gives dementia sufferers a sense of purpose by providing them with steady work, and encourages conversation and interaction between their staff and the customers who usually don’t have memory impairments.
Dementia sufferers are invaluably humanized and treated as valid, contributing members of society.
2. Alzheimer’s Poetry Project: Sparking creativity with poetry
Founded by Gary Glazner, the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project seeks to tap into Alzheimer’s patients’ craving for a creative outlet. As Glazner said in an article published by The Journal of the American Medical Association, “Pending effective treatment, there is a need to meet the cognitive and behavioral needs of these patients, and participatory group interventions grounded in the cultural arts are a possible approach.”
Along with live workshops like the Memory Arts Cafe in Brooklyn, the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project travels to host events worldwide and offers online training. As Glazner told Considerable, “We have done programming in 34 states and internationally in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Poland and South Korea. We continue to expand programming.”
Glazner found that call-and-response poetry exercises help jog patients’ memories and give them a creative outlet to express themselves, and encourages Alzheimer’s caregivers around the world to use similar techniques and tap into the arts as an engagement resource.
3. Our Dementia Choir gives voice to patients
Started by British actress Vicky McClure, the U.K.-based choir gathered 20 people from Nottingham with various forms of dementia to give a performance for 2,000 people. McClure found that music was an effective way to connect with her grandmother, who suffered from memory loss, before she passed away.
“When we sang, we were all on the same page,” McClure told the BBC.
Similar choirs are popping up in the U.S., like the New York-based Unforgettables Chorus, Chicago’s Good Memories Choir, and Minnesota’s Life-Long Singers. The Life-Long Singers perform classic songs that that most of the chorus and audience members alike know by heart.
“Those memories are so deeply etched and we know that long term memory stays into the disease. Even when they lose language, it’s still there,” Nancy Abrahamson, a dementia care specialist with St. Croix County, told CBS Minnesota.
Music is a popular tool to help memory loss patients for this very reason. While sufferers might not be able to remember what they ate for breakfast that morning or even the names of their family members, they’re often able to recall the all of the lyrics to their favorite Beatles or Stones album. Musical memories are usually unaffected by dementia.
4. Yoga for Alzheimer’s patients
San Francisco’s Institute on Aging believes in the power of connecting memory-loss patients to their bodies. As its website explains, “Yoga is an excellent practice in flexibility: for the body, the mind, and the spirit. Whereas Alzheimer’s is a disease of disconnection, yoga is a science and practice of connection.”
Most medical opinions agree that some regular light exercise is extremely beneficial for memory loss patients (and most aging folks in general), and specialized yoga is a great option since the teacher can lead the yogis in in-the-moment exercises that don’t rely on any remembered poses.
Along with exercising the body and the mind, yoga is a known stress-reducer and can help alleviate the frustrations that memory loss patients can experience when they go in and out of staged of lucidity.
5. A like-minded advisory board
Last but not least, dementia patients are given the opportunity to pave the way for others in the Alzheimer’s Association’s Early-Stage Advisory Group.
Instead of just hearing the Association’s plans and initiatives from the Association’s professionals and specialists, memory loss patients hear directly from their peers on the board.
Issues covered include increasing dementia concern and awareness, ways to enhance care and support, advancing public policy, and accelerating research.
“We hope that showing the face, good intentions, and life of a person living with the disease will go a very long way to break down the stigma, misperceptions and fear surrounding a diagnosis,” Geri T, an Alzheimer’s patient and board member, said on the Association’s website.
Nominations for the board are in fact now open. Terms last from July 1 to June 30, and travel expenses are paid for by the Association when necessary.
As information about dementia increases, expect to see similar programs cropping up globally — and be sure to look for specific memory loss-friendly communities in your area.