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The Gift of Alzheimer’s

Keri Pollock, Alzheimer’s Association, kpollock@alz.org | Mar 15, 2013, 7 p.m.
DISCOVERY 2013: the Alzheimer’s Association 28th Annual Regional Conference on Friday, April 5, at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Visit www.alzwa.org for details and to register.

Relationships are always in transition: when a neighbor moves; after a child graduates from college; as a parent ages. That’s life.

As Dr. John Zeisel points out in his book I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care, “A loved one starting to live with Alzheimer’s and the relationship we build with that person is one of those transitions. We have a choice of making this change miserable for everyone, or we can make the best of it. We can do even better – we can improve all our lives by responding to and managing the transition positively.”

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis does change the relationship. A new one must be built as the realities of the progressive, degenerative and fatal realities of the disease are acknowledged.

It’s Dr. Zeisel’s pioneering work in this area – looking at and approaching Alzheimer’s with a new perspective - that has prompted us at the Alzheimer’s Association to partner with the Frye Art Museum in Seattle and bring Zeisel to Seattle for DISCOVERY 2013: the Alzheimer’s Association 28th Annual Regional Conference on Friday, April 5, at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Visit www.alzwa.org for details and to register.

Through his dementia-friendly and non-pharmacological programs approach, which he calls the “I’m Still Here” approach, Zeisel engages us to consider that a person with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia still has a life worth living, and that persons with dementia still have a continuing curiosity and a desire to learn throughout the disease process. He’s put this philosophy into practice and demonstrates its ongoing, evidence-based successes in his work at The Hearthstone Alzheimer’s Care communities in Boston and New York City, as well as through the I’m Still Here Foundation, and ARTZ for Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Zeisel has evolved “I’m Still Here” into a basic theme of “The Gifts of Alzheimer’s“, helping people make the transition successfully to a new and fulfilling relationship within the reality of an Alzheimer’s or related dementia diagnosis. These gifts include cherishing memories, taking care of oneself, having a sense of humor, patience, enjoying the moment, self-awareness, the importance of family, seeing others for who they are, coping with the complicated, listening, and community, for example.

And Zeisel includes in his philosophy the need to transition the relationship of our communities to acceptance and one of inclusiveness of persons with dementia. This is where programs like the Frye’s here:now arts engagement, Alzheimer’s Cafés, and our Chapter’s early stage memories loss programs such as the zoo walk, choir and support groups for persons with memory loss come in. On Saturday, April 6th, Dr. Zeisel will demonstrate and facilitate Meet Me at the Movies, an interactive film program for persons with dementia and their care partners at the Frye Art Museum. Free tickets may be picked up at the Frye Information Desk beginning at 11:00 am the day of the event. Limited seating; first come-first served. This program starts at 11:30 AM.

Though there is hope in ongoing Alzheimer’s research, we still don’t have a cure or treatment to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s. Every 68 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s disease. In Washington State alone we have over 150,000 individuals with Alzheimer’s and over 350,000 family and friends who care for them. Most of them will live with Alzheimer’s for over a decade.

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