According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are currently over six million people in the U.S. who live with Alzheimer’s disease, and this number is projected to over double by 2050. Although a significant number of people experience dementia, it is a common myth that cognitive decline is inevitable as we age. Although there is no current cure for memory loss, there are preventative measures we can take to keep our brains and minds healthy.
On April 18, 2023, Age Friendly Seattle Civic Coffee, in collaboration with the Senior Center of West Seattle, hosted a panel discussion about memory loss and how efforts from organizations (including the City of Seattle) are promoting brain health. This month’s panelists were Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1—West Seattle, South Park, Georgetown, Industrial District, SODO, and Pioneer Square); Karen Thompson, Alzheimer’s Association Washington State; and Sandy Sabersky, Elderwise.
Councilmember Herbold addressed the City’s role in promoting brain health and what it means to be an age-friendly city. Since 2016, Seattle has been a part of the movement to make Seattle a great place to grow up and grow old. To promote brain health, the City acknowledges that it has to address diverse issues that affect brain health, including The 8 Domains of Livability (the national framework for age-friendly cities) and the Social Determinants of Health. Councilmember Herbold has helped approve funding for many programs to promote healthy living, such as funding for senior social isolation, Stay Connected, digital equity programs, and Cultivate South Park.
People from marginalized communities are also more likely to develop cognitive decline as they age. For example, Black and African Americans are twice as likely to develop dementia than their white counterparts. The structural racism that people of color face on a daily basis takes a toll on their mental and physical health. To uplift people from these communities, programs like SHARP aim to promote physical health and improve cognitive health. SHARP is an innovative program that encourages African Americans with ties to Seattle’s Central district to reminisce about the area, and stories are recorded to help others.
Councilmember Herbold mentioned three events specific to the needs of African American elders—Memory Sunday (June), Grandparents Day (September), and the African American Caregivers Forum (November). Two of the three events focus on brain health and memory care.
Karen shared that Woodland Park Zoo Walks are a great way for people who live with memory loss and their caregivers to stay active and interact with other people. She also mentioned the importance of holistic care when it comes to taking care of our brains. Eating healthy and staying active are the key elements to making sure our brain is functioning at its fullest capacity.
Sandy pointed out the importance of taking a spiritual approach to memory loss care. A lot of times when people are dealing with mental or brain health issues, too often they are labelled by their condition and lose their personal identities. The spirituality approach acknowledges that people are not their brains and honors the deepest parts of what makes us us. What we like and need does not change simply because we have memory loss. Sandy also mentioned the importance of staying present in every moment. She reminded us to slow things down and appreciate the smallest things in life.
The biggest takeaway from this panel discussion is that, to improve brain health, we have to nourish all the aspects of our lives—mind, spirit, and body. Age Friendly Seattle hopes to honor this holistic approach in the programs we serve for older adults. Learn more from our April 18 panelists by watching the video recording on YouTube.
The April Civic Coffee was hosted at the Senior Center of West Seattle. We were able to enjoy the company of the West Seattle community while having a conversation about brain health. The event offered multiple live translations in Amharic and Spanish. It was streamed live on Facebook and via Zoom for those who were unable to attend in person.
We encourage you to keep an eye out for our next in-person event to further engage with the community. Visit Age Friendly Seattle’s events webpage, Aging King County’s Age Friendly Live—Virtual Events webpage, and follow Age Friendly Seattle on Facebook and Twitter.
Contributor Ronya Tan is an intern on the Age Friendly Seattle team, providing community outreach and program support. She is a student at the University of Washington.
Photo credit (top): Kevin Mundt, Seattle Human Services Department