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Elderwise Programs Inspire Seniors with Dementia

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonMarch 10, 2015

Contemporary adult day services benefit family caregivers as well as seniors, providing socialization, community and lifelong learning. Elderwise is one program offering art classes, museum visits and wellness activities to seniors throughout Seattle.

As today’s adults become seniors, they are redefining what it means to get older — and that new definition includes aging with grace, dignity and creativity. This transformation in how we view aging is taking place all across the spectrum of senior care, from residential communities to neighborhood senior centers.

One innovative organization called Elderwise, offers dementia-friendly social programs for seniors, and incorporates the arts, music and wellness into a holistic approach called spirit-centered care. Elderwise’s unique model for adult day care provides residents of downtown Seattle’s Horizon House and other community members with the opportunity for lifelong learning and healthy socialization.

The Benefits of Adult Day Cares and Senior Centers

Adult day services can be a truly beneficial option for families of loved ones who need supervision or care during the day. Senior centers as well as senior communities may provide adult day services, with offerings ranging from health care and meals to social activities and enrichment classes. Far from being the stereotypical roomful of old folks playing desultory bingo, you might find dance and exercise classes for active adults as well as art therapy and medication supervision for those with physical or cognitive impairments.

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Adult day services are a boon for families, too, relieving the stress of 24-hour caregiving for those with aging loved ones at home. Daytime care can make it possible for seniors to continue aging in place — in their own home or that of a loved one — rather than entering a care facility. Beyond that, they receive the benefits of socialization, which have a positive effect on both mental and physical well-being. This has definitely been the case for Elderwise, which Horizon House CEO Bob Anderson describes as “a dramatic success.”

“Our residents love the programming which often allows a spouse to remain in his/her apartment for a longer period of time before residential 24-hour care is necessary,” Anderson says. “Thus spouses who are caring for a loved one get a break during the day and dependent spouses enjoy a stimulating and supportive environment.”

How Elderwise Supports Seniors With Dementia

In the words of Sara Shelton, the Elderwise Board Chair: “Elderwise is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating and providing engagement opportunities for seniors with early to mid-stage dementia.” Their model of spirit-centered care goes one better than the current concept of person-centered care. In addition to caring for a person’s physical needs and individual preferences, spirit-centered care takes a holistic approach that also considers a person’s essence, which remains the same even as they may experience physical or cognitive changes.

In their adult day program that serves small groups of Horizon House residents as well as community members, Elderwise provides “a structured program of arts, exercise, discussion and shared community” from 10:00 a.m.- 2:00 p.m. Monday-Friday. They also provide offsite outreach programs to other senior centers and communities, primarily one-hour watercolor painting classes.

Perhaps most exciting is their partnership with the Frye Museum called the “here:now program,” which is “specifically for those with dementia along with their care partner,” says Shelton. “This program includes a tour of current exhibits followed by facilitated artwork.” Elderwise also educates and collaborates with other local organizations to share their philosophy and provide low-cost dementia-friendly opportunities throughout the Greater Seattle region.

Fighting Senior Isolation and Encouraging Creativity

The benefits, however, go far beyond the art classes and museum visits themselves. Says Shelton:

“The greatest benefit to seniors with dementia is the opportunity to engage with others in a meaningful and enriching way. There is a deep sense of community among the participants and we emphasize continuous learning through art, discussion, music, and movement.”

Horizon House’s Bob Anderson agrees, calling it a “win-win situation” for both Elderwise and his residents. “Horizon House residents and the community get access to a first-class Day Program, and Horizon House gets to express its mission of service to the broader community in yet one more important way.”

If you or a loved one has attended an Elderwise program, we want to hear about your experiences. Please share your story with us in the comments below.   

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