A dementia diagnosis can seem daunting. Despite progressive memory loss — and all that goes with it — there is life after diagnosis.
Momentia is a grassroots movement empowering persons with memory loss and their loved ones to remain connected and active in the community. Through local organizations searching for a way to better serve people with memory loss and their caregivers, Momentia was founded in 2013.
The movement declares a new dementia story; a story not of fear, isolation, despair, futility or loss, but a story of hope, connection, growth, purpose and courage. Organizations across Seattle have been offering Momentia classes and programs for years, and now it’s coming to the Eastside.
In partnership with Jefferson House Memory Care in Kirkland and Taproot Theatre in Seattle, a Momentia improv pilot class will be offered to students with early to mid-stage memory loss at Kirkland Performance Center (KPC) on Nov. 25.
According to Cheryl Guenther, executive director of Jefferson House, this is the third pilot on the Eastside. The first two took place in Bellevue.
“We’re always interested in finding interactive programs for patients and caregivers,” she said.
Improv and imagination are used in this class to offer an in-the-moment experience in which memory is not required.
Pam Nolte, a Taproot Theatre founder and a professional teaching artist, will be leading the pilot class at KPC.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to socialize and experience life where life is the operative — not memory loss,” she said.
Nolte said the improv classes use and draw on parts of memory the students still have, which include long-term memory, emotional memory and muscle memory.
“We’re reigniting the senses,” she said. “It’s really, really fun. You can see them really get into it and start using their imaginations.”
While Nolte said there are minor challenges in doing improv with people experiencing memory loss, including playing with students who speak a different language or have mobility restrictions, it never keeps the class from having fun.
“They’re in the height of creativity,” she said. “They’re free of inhibitions. There’s such beauty in being with people in the moment.”
Nolte described one of her favorite Momentia classes.
“We were doing exercises just to get warmed up and a student was trying to remember how to walk a dog,” Nolte said. “She was struggling and beginning to get frustrated but then another student came over and took her hand and showed her how to walk a dog…It was profound to see a memory loss member help another memory loss member.”
Each class is different. Different students at different levels of memory loss combined with the nature of improv keep the class fresh.
“It’s a resurrection of story and purpose for some of these students,” Nolte said. “Everyone walks away with having built friendships. They laughed together and imagined together.”
She said she knows students take the experience forward after the class.
“They have a brightness of spirit, their caregivers say they have a better attitude toward life,” she said.
Nolte said people with memory loss can still lead “profoundly rich lives.”
“There is life after diagnosis,” she said. “We need to recognize it in the form that’s available to us now.”
The free class on Nov. 25 will be held from 10:30-11:30 a.m. at KPC, 350 Kirkland Ave. The class can accommodate up to 20 students.
To RSVP for the class, email JeffersonhouseED@koelschsenior.com. To learn more about the Momentia movement, visit www.momentiaseattle.org.