Society isn’t set up for people with dementia. The opportunities to socialize and take part in activities are limited. It’s just the opposite of what needs to happen, as research shows that activity and socializing reduces the impact of dementia.
That’s where a partnership between LCS Northwest and the Alzheimer’s Association, Washington State Chapter is making a difference. In October 2014, we launched the Early Stage Memory Loss Zoo Walk at Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma.
For the last year, a group of 10 to 15 people with early stage dementia, caregivers and volunteers meet at the zoo every Friday morning. They tour a different portion of the zoo each week. Maybe more importantly, they socialize over coffee in the café at the end.
“I see a big change in some of the folks who come,” said Linda McCone, a program assistant at LCS Northwest who organizes the weekly walk. “They’re more outgoing. They’ve made friendships and they’re more active and engaged.”
LCS Northwest pays zoo entry fees for participants and volunteers. Caregivers get in for free per zoo policy. Everyone pays for their own refreshments at the café.
“We always enjoy and welcome new participants,” McCone said. “Our program is growing, so we’re looking for a new volunteer right now.”
The group has started a tradition. One participant talked about how 60 people came to her 65th birthday party, but since her dementia diagnosis, she feels shunned as now she celebrates birthdays with just her husband. The next week was her birthday, so she and McCone each brought a cake for the group.
“After that, when birthdays come up we bring a cake and everybody signs a card,” McCone said. “It’s a tradition we all enjoy.”
For more information about the Early Stage Memory Loss Zoo Walk, contact Linda McCone at lmccone@lscnw or 253-722-5691. To participate, call Katherine Painter at 206-529-3868. Painter is the Early Stage Coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Association. She will explain the program and determine if it’s a good fit for applicants.