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Making Joyful Connections!

JCHE’s Life-Altering Program for People with Memory Loss

Posted: April 29, 2016

“I’m always happy when there are people around me and I like to be here,” says Esther Krupnik through a translator.

Esther is referring to the Joyful Connections! program, a social drop-in club for JCHE's Brighton residents with memory loss and their care partners. Funded by the Miriam Fund and through charitable giving, the program engages residents four times per week in a structured two hour agenda that many say has changed their lives.

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“We have about 15 regulars now, which exceeded our expectations, says Caren Silverlieb, JCHE's Director of Strategic Planning and Partnerships, who directs the program. “The other day we had 18 and we didn’t have enough space and so one of the care partners had to stand.”

The program is strategically scheduled in the late afternoon, to help participants overcome the symptoms of a condition known as “sundowning.” For reasons not fully understood, people with dementia tend to become more confused and agitated as the sun begins to fade. Joyful Connections! offers supportive, friendly engagement during this challenging time of day.

“What makes this program so successful is that we focus on imagination and creativity,” says Silverlieb. “Despite the progression of memory loss, people with dementia tend to retain a deep reservoir of imagination. So we tap into that.”

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Each session begins with imaginative exercise. For example, the participants are guided on an imaginary “trip” on a sail boat. They are instructed to lift their legs as they imagine walking down the pier and climbing onto the boat, and they reach up as they imagine pulling down a rope to raise the sails.  Sometimes the group goes fishing on the boat and the participants cast out and reel in what they may have caught. Other days, the group takes an imaginary journey to the supermarket and participants take turns saying what they want to buy. The bread is on the top shelf in the back, so they are directed to reach back to get it; the bags of rice are piled on the floor, so they must bend down to pick them up.

The second part of the session focuses on healthy refreshments and self-help. “Sometimes we serve, depending on what we’re having,” says Silverlieb. “But most of the time, people help themselves – and each other. They have nice conversation, build new friendships, and they look out for each other.”

The third and longest part of the program is a therapeutic activity. About twice per week, the group is joined by a certified expressive arts therapist who engages the participants in dance movement, creative arts or music. On the other days, Olena Bovdur, JCHE’s director of special programs, plans and implements therapeutic and fun activities.

What makes Joyful Connections! special, according to Bovdur, is that “people can talk with each other and do specific visualization exercises which are good for their brains and bodies. People seek a sense of purpose and belonging and this program makes them feel important and useful.”

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“It’s all part of the Habilitation Therapy Model developed by Paul Raia, PhD,” says Silverlieb. “By the end of each two-hour session, the participants have exercised, made use of their cognitive and physical skills and abilities, and have had fun doing it.”

Esther Krupnik agrees. “Everything is really good here and people are very nice with me,” she says. “I used to watch a lot of TV programs and it made me feel more sad and my doctor told me that I need to watch TV less and talk to people more. This program gives me the opportunity to talk with people and do something really fun. Every time I come, I always feel happy."


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