Seattle hosted the Special Olympics USA Games the first of July. The mission of the USA Games is to “showcase the abilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities and the impact of Special Olympics through world-class competition, inspirational experiences, and modeling inclusion for all.” Coverage of the Games was infused with stories of hope, joy and, most important, inclusion.
I see parallels between what Special Olympics has achieved and what individuals living with dementia, their care partners, and those of us who work with and advocate for them are working towards—acceptance and inclusion.
It wasn’t that long ago that individuals living with intellectual disabilities were faced with prejudice and social stigma. Anyone who has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another dementia will tell you that their initial reaction was shock. Some feel relief when the diagnosis confirms what they suspect. Sometimes those reactions are followed by a desire to isolate. The world is still filled with misunderstanding of cognitive changes and stigma. A natural reaction is to withdraw. Sometimes, family and friends drop away. Occasionally, professionals contribute to the misunderstanding.
It took a long time to correct this thinking. Thankfully, through the grassroot efforts of families, individuals with intellectual disabilities, social and health services professionals, and others, it is happening.
A growing group of local, national, and international professionals and volunteer advocates is working to achieve the same goals of inclusion—understanding and acceptance when it comes to Alzheimer’s and other dementias. A growing movement is changing this narrative. To help educate the public about what it means to live with Alzheimer’s and to encourage and engage individuals to live their best lives with Alzheimer’s, advocates are telling and celebrating a new dementia story.
What is Momentia?
Just as Special Olympics has changed the narrative about intellectual disabilities, Momentia Seattle is part of a worldwide movement that’s radically transforming what it means to live with dementia in a community.
Momentia is a grassroots movement that empowers persons with memory loss and their loved ones to remain connected and active in the community. The brainchild of Marigrace Becker, who directs outreach and community impact at the University of Washington Memory Brain Wellness Center, Momentia is made possible through the support and participation of several area organizations—Momentia Partners—that have similar philosophies in serving this community. Each organization offers dementia-inclusive programs and events, and supports one another through collaboration, co-promotion, and a shared vision of empowering individuals living with cognitive changes and their loved ones.
Momentia programs and activities
Becker has been instrumental in creating and launching quite a few programs and activities, including arts engagement; food bank volunteering; city, garden, and zoo walks; early stage memory loss enrichment programs; and a talent share. In her work at the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center as well as with the Washington State Dementia Action Collaborative, Becker is able to share with communities what has worked locally and how to make it happen in their neighborhoods.
Momentia partner organizations offer a rich variety of programs and events. They include something for everyone. The best part? Participants can try new things and discover new delights and gifts. Always wanted to try ballroom or folk dancing? There are programs for that. Haven’t touched your ukulele in years? Love singing in a chorus, but never had the time? You guessed it! There are programs for playing and singing! Unsure about visiting an art museum or painting with watercolors? There are programs for that, too! There’s even an improv class!
The programs created and offered through Momentia are about more than staying active. They also offer opportunities for meaningful social engagement, creative exploration, and friendships. No one understands you as well as someone who is walking or has walked a similar path. Individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and their care partners can feel alone at times. The Momentia community is one where you are accepted, understood, and welcomed. Always.
One guiding principle of Momentia is to make sure the dementia-friendly programs and activities offered are open to the public and take place in community settings. This is meant to encourage integration into the community as well as challenge and change people’s assumptions about what it means to live with dementia. Another guiding principle of Momentia is to focus on the strengths of persons living with dementia and be guided by their voices and preferences when creating and offering programs.
Snapshot of Momentia Partners programs
Alzheimer’s Cafes are probably offered most frequently. Cafes offer opportunity for persons living with dementia, their care partners, family member, and friends to come together and engage socially in a relaxed and judgement-free space. Sometimes live music and singing are a component.
Walking programs are also popular, and walking is great exercise. From Garden Discovery Walks to Out & About Walks to Zoo Walks, each walk includes a social component where participants can build friendships and deeper connections.
Want to bring Momentia to your neighborhood?
Have a great idea that you know others in your community would love? Consider starting your own Momentia-inspired program. The Momentia Partners are available to serve as sounding boards, mentors, and support. The UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center offers a program entitled Momentia in My Neighborhood to help others successfully create and launch similar programs.
Momentia isn’t limited to the greater Seattle area. In Snohomish County, for example, SnoMentia has been created in response. The Edmonds Center for the Arts (ECA) features a dementia-inclusive series of programs each season including movies, sing-alongs, dance, and music. Homage Senior Services, ECA, and the Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace Senior Centers offer improv, folk dance, and other arts programming. The local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has a monthly art gallery program at the Cascadia Art Museum, in addition to support groups and educational forums. There are a number of Alzheimer’s Cafes throughout the county.
Additional dementia-friendly resources for inspiration
Dementia Friendly America is a national network of communities, organizations and individuals seeking to ensure that communities across the U.S. are equipped to support people living with dementia and their caregivers. Dementia-friendly communities foster the ability of people living with dementia to remain in community and engage and thrive in day-to-day living.
Dementia Alliance International is a collaboration of like-minded individuals diagnosed with dementia providing a unified voice of strength, advocacy, and support in the fight for individual autonomy for people with dementia.
Dementia Friends is an Alzheimer’s Society initiative in the U.K. designed to change people’s perceptions of dementia. It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, acts, and talks about the condition.
Contributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom and serves on the Age Friendly Coalition for Seattle and King County, the Frye Art Museum’s Creative Aging Programs Advisory Committee, and the Alzheimer’s Association Discovery Conference Advisory Council.
Photo at top courtesy of Momentia Seattle.