Helping those with memory loss find joy, purpose again

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Humor is by far the most significant activity of the human brain.

- Edward de Bono

I rarely write about the programs at Memory Matters, but I am just bursting at the seams to share a few moments I experienced recently and to help my readers understand what is happening here at 117 William Hilton Parkway, our home on Hilton Head Island.

I have been working with Memory Matters for almost 14 years. I truly love what I do. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in many evolutions over the years. This year Memory Matters is celebrating 20 years of service to our community.

I can honestly say, with no reservations, that each day at Memory Matters gives me so much happiness. Just knowing that our staff is offering people hope, and that our programs are helping people retain their dignity as well as focus on positivity even after a diagnosis of dementia, is such an amazing feeling.

In addition to offering creative programing, we are giving our caregivers time to take care of themselves.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, we offer our Connections program. This program is designed for individuals who may be diagnosed with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) or early stages of dementia.

Some people are interested in being part of a program that challenges their brain; others are seeking an opportunity to socialize; and quite a few individuals want to try something new such as art, yoga, computer work or creative writing.

Our goal is to help people understand that a diagnosis of any form of dementia does not define who they are, and that the more they stay engaged in life, the healthier their brain will stay.

So what got me so energized? I was in our kitchen listening to our memory care specialist and program director, Cathee Stegall, talking to the folks about what she had planned for the day.

The first thing they were going to do was take a quiz that would help them to identify if they were optimists or pessimists. The quiz was very telling, and most were surprised by their results.

As a follow-up after lunch, they generated ideas about how to keep themselves more positive. They also talked about the benefits of growing older.

Everyone in the class was fully engaged, and their profound insights actually taught Cathee and the volunteers a few lessons.

Later that day, I walked in and some were working on the iPads while others were out in the garden or doing puzzles. I just wanted to sit down and enjoy the program with them!

My hope is that someday people won't wait so long to get help when it might then be too late for someone to enjoy our programs. My hope is that people stop being so afraid to walk in our door.

My hope is that someday we have a cure for Alzheimer's, but you know what? Until there is a cure, at Memory Matters we have discovered a way to live with memory loss - to find joy and purpose again.

Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org

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