26 Jun Greenwood Senior Center Features Progressive Early Stage Memory Loss Programming
You probably think of Seattle as a national leader in tech, bio tech, aviation, and, of course the standardized cup of coffee…but did you know Seattle leads the nation in comprehensive, innovative dementia programming? Pockets of programming have been available in the city since the late 90’s but recent expansions in services complement one another and form an outstanding network of support for all stages of memory loss. Seattle social worker Carin Mack stewards and develops Early Stage Memory Loss (ESML) programs for people in the early to mid stages of dementia. I spoke with Mack about her ESML programs and Seattle’s progressive dementia services.
“It takes money, time and structure to build programming,” Carin Mack explained. Leveraging her experience and vision gleaned from nearly 40 years of social work Mack gradually built the structure for her nationally unparalled hub of ESML services at Greenwood Senior Center with steadfast support from Phinney Neighborhood Association. At the core are: the Gathering Place, a wholistically designed weekly program of cognitive and cultural enrichment components with exercise, Piano and Music Making sessions, support groups for ESML care partners and spouses, the professionally facilitated song circle “All Present,” and a book group at the local library. While medicine searches for solutions to memory loss, programs such as these are crucial in keeping minds engaged, improving self esteem, and lifting awareness in the community. “Alzheimer’s is nothing to fear. I am a loving person; I am a happy person. I have fun, friends, and family, and that gives me joy,” CeCe, a Gathering Place attendee writes in an awareness handout created by members of the program.
All Greenwood Senior Center’s programming, established less than 4 years ago, evolved out of The Gathering Place. At the time, Mack said, “The worst part of my job used to be telling people [who had progressed beyond the services of The Gathering Place] that there was nowhere else to go.” That motivated the development of more programs at Greenwood Senior Center and advocacy for interlocking services across the city including: Alzheimer’s Cafes, Alzheimer’s Zoo Walks, the umbrella movement Momentia Seattle, and other exciting supports. “I’m in the wonderful position of seeing the needs of the population. I have latitude in my role to refer, to create programs, and identify needed supports,” Mack explained pointing to programmatic partnerships forged with artists and arts groups like Taproot Theatre and outreach with Virginia Mason’s Memory Programs, the Alzheimer’s Association, Elderwise, and the UW Medicine Memory and Brain Wellness Center at Harborview Medical Center.
“Passion” is the word Mack uses to describe her drive to create rich, comprehensive Early Stage Memory Loss programming and care partner support. “I’m going to do this until I can’t,” she states with resolve. “Joy” is her description for the moments of connection and discovery in those programs. ESML programs provide fraternity and comfort, Mack remarked. In illustration she relayed the story of a man who usually walks into the Gathering Place, puts his arm around everyone and says, “These are my people.”
ESML Book group members can no longer read complete books but they still have opinions and like to talk about things, Mack explained. Music group participants don’t need past experience playing an instrument to discover a relationship with music. An ESML improv group gives participants an opportunity to discover or explore new aspects of their emotions. Jim, a member of The Gathering Place summed it up, “Having Alzheimer’s is an adventure, not a disease.” With support like Greenwood Senior Center’s ESML programs and the steadfast, passionate advocacy of Carin Mack, Seattle is transforming what it means to live with memory loss and creating an active, engaged memory loss community that’s inspiring the nation.