In mid-December, I was asked if I would like to be a part of North Shore Community Resources’ Memories & More program. I was told that it is a ten-week program for people in the early stages of dementia and their caregivers. Memories & More was developed to “help people in the early stages of dementia to remain active and to ease the isolation of their caregivers.” I accepted the co-facilitator role with excitement and some nervousness – I had not been a part of anything like it before. What unraveled over the ten weeks felt like so much more than its initial description. It seemed to me that the program not only assisted folks in the early stages of dementia to stay active and helped the caregivers to feel less isolated, it created a sense of community.
We were given a bright room in Silver Harbour Seniors Centre with chairs, tables, coffee, tea and cookies. The chairs were arranged in a circle and we spent most of our time together in this arrangement. There were different themes for each week – from Memories, Change and Adaptation to Humour and Music. Although the themes changed, some things were consistent. We always checked in with everyone to see how their week had been and one of us would lead the group through a relaxation exercise before moving on to anything else. We would spend some time working on and talking about a worksheet that would go in to a memory book to be taken away after the final session. I play guitar and sing and was asked if I would like to contribute some music to the group. Activities would open with a different song every week and the day would end with Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Folks were a little shy to join in at first, but by the end of the series most were singing along!
We had guest speakers visit us twice – once to offer Therapeutic Touch and another time to lead the group through Brain Gym and Laughter Yoga. Most weeks the care pairs would stay together for the two hour session, but some weeks the caregivers would separate from their partners for half an hour to give each partner a chance to talk openly about their journey and to connect with the people in the room that may have been experiencing similar situations or emotions.
Throughout the Winter/Spring session of Memories & More, participants were given an opportunity and the space to share stories, reflect, connect with other people who they felt understood what they were going through, create, sing, laugh and learn some tools to better manage the changes in their lives together. The final session featured a potluck and an opportunity to write or speak appreciation to the other members of the group. Feelings of gratitude, happiness, acceptance and kindness were widely expressed. I think it was because of these feelings that participants seemed so eager to join the follow-up group that would mostly be moderated by one another. For people caring for or being cared for by loved ones, an opportunity to connect with people in a safe, welcoming community through laughter, story-telling and creativity can have profound effects on both partners’ well-being.
Photos and words by Cassandra Van Dyck