We all have met up, at some time or other, with people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Seeing their inability to function independently is frightening. We look at them and their family members with compassion. But that’s them. We are we. We are not members of that club. The Dementia Club. We chuckle a bit the next time we forget our keys but we know it’s normal. Certainly not a sign of the D-word.
And then one day, Chaya, a perfectly normal woman, your neighbor, the one you went shopping with a couple of weeks ago. The one who helped you out your washing machine broke. That neighbor whom you’ve shared your woes in raising your kids as you both waited for their school bus each morning – she said something strange. It wasn’t the first time. You glanced up at her and were shocked to see that her face looked different – confused, helpless.
When you asked her to join you for a cup of coffee, she refused. Not even her favorite Danish to go with it tempted her. In fact, it seemed that she was frightened. Rivky, another neighbor, commented that as soon as she sat down on the park bench, Chaya jumped up, almost as if in fear, with a muttered excuse of having left the soup on the fire.
Chaya truly is scared. Spending time with a friend becomes humiliating. She feels vulnerable. She gradually withdraws from any social contact. Even her grocery orders are now faxed as she tells herself that faxing is so much more convenient than shopping at the store. Anyways her lists are simpler these days. Not too many raw ingredients. Mostly prepared food. Following a recipe is draining. She complains about the complexity of modern cookbooks.
Can ‘us’ really morph into ‘them’?
People with early stage dementia comprise a significant segment of the population. They are in ‘twilight zone’, no longer able to fit into their former social circles yet cannot imagine themselves in a circle of senior citizens even though they are approaching or have entered the age of the senior world. Their cognitive abilities have somewhat declined but they certainly do not fit into a day care center setting for the mentally infirm.
The partial awareness that the patient has at this stage generates a sense of vulnerability and helplessness. A protected ‘safe place’ framework is needed for those in the early stages. It is this issue that Ezer Mizion seeks to address with its Social Clubs for women at the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. These clubs serve to mitigate the withdrawal and introversion experienced by many.
Its goals are to create a program adapted to encourage the participants to engage in social interaction in spite of the disease. Equally important is the preservation of cognitive capabilities, as much as possible, via diverse multi-sensory activities in addition to strengthening a sense of meaning and self-worth and enhancement of participants’ quality of life. With emphasis placed on the preservation and enhancement of cognitive and social abilities, activities focus on multi-sensory and cognitive stimulation such as discussions on topics of interest, physical exercise, music, board games and crafts activities.
As the need is great, Ezer Mizion hopes to increase its scope of clubs in major cities throughout Israel, each one a protective haven for people experiencing the frightening trauma losing touch with the stability of day-to-day life as they had known it.