Organizers of a recent workshop found themselves scrambling to set up additional chairs as people poured in to attend an evening about dementia.
The event was the latest part of a project hosted by the Brenda Stafford Foundation’s Dementia Friendly Communities pilot project, and took place at the Signal Hill Library on Jan. 21, in part to recognize the fact that January was Alzheimer’s Awareness month. More than 50 people attended.
“We were thrilled that so many people came,” said Julie Arnold, manager, communication and marketing for the Brenda Stafford Foundation. “There was a really good audience engagement. Our goal is to increase understanding and reduce stigma around all mental illness, not just dementia.”
Keynote speaker was Veronica Guadagni from the University of Calgary’s laboratory of human cerebrovascular physiology. She is also a researcher for a team known as Brain in Motion that is currently recruiting participants to take part in the second phase of a study to determine the relationship between exercise and brain health.
Guadagni said she is impressed by the knowledge, understanding and quality of some of the questions from the floor.
“Our research is looking at diet, stress reduction, the role of exercise and the role of sleep,” she explained. “It’s a long process.”
After Guadagni’s presentation, puppeteer Michell Warkentin of Life Stages Theatre performed Mii Other Woman, a portrayal of one woman’s journey while living with dementia. Warkentin, who wrote the play in part because her mother-in-law has vascular dementia, says about three years ago she decided it was time to use her puppets to promote healing.
“This play represents a lot of things for me,” she said. “There is such a strong spiritual connection between where we are in life and our memories. I began to think about what if those memories simply began to disappear. I want to help people be able to love where they’re at. That’s the journey.”
Calgarian Katherine Medina says her family first began to notice her mother’s extreme memory loss about 15 years ago. She was eventually diagnosed with dementia and when Medina was no longer able to care for her at home, she went to live in a long term care facility in Calgary. Medina says that while the experience has been extraordinarily difficult, she’s learned more than she believed possible.
“I’ve found I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be,” she explained. “I’m definitely stronger than I give myself credit for.”
Medina adds that because of the steep learning curve, informational workshops are very important to help both patients and caregivers understand the effects of dementia.
“My advice would be to find out everything you can about the diagnosis and get on the same page with your family,” she said. “Different expectations can tear families apart. You’ll have good days and the hardest days you’ve ever had.”
Similar workshops will be advertised throughout the Calgary Public Library. Anyone interested in being part of the Brain in Motion study should visit http://obrieniph.ucalgary.ca/brain-in-motion-11. To learn more about Life Stages Theatre, go to www.michellewarkentin.ca. For information about the Brenda Stafford Foundation, visit www.theBSF.ca.