Ten people living with dementia, along with their care partners, are spending an hour and a half each week at Servus Place honing their physical and mental skills.
The program, Minds in Motion, is the first of its kind in Alberta and is a joint pilot between the City of St. Albert and the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories. It is for people in the early to mid stages of dementia.
For Orest and Nancy Jaszczyszyn, the class has been a vital way to stay active and to meet other families who are dealing with forms of dementia.
In 2016, Orest was diagnosed with dementia; at the same time, Nancy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. They moved to St. Albert in September 2017 to be closer to their children, and as a couple for whom being physically and mentally fit has always been a priority, Nancy says she was thrilled to learn about Minds in Motion.
“I thought, oh my gosh, this is great – because we don’t know anybody, and with (Orest’s) dementia it’s hard to meet people,” Nancy said.
“With exercise, I’m keeping myself well for him, because I need to care for him, and he needs to keep healthy as well so it helps me out.”
A 10-week course comprised of 45 minutes of physical activity and 45 minutes of cognitive activity, Minds in Motion began Jan. 11 and is currently running as a pilot in three communities. Aside from St. Albert, it is also being held in Sherwood Park and Spruce Grove.
Megan Lauer, Servus Place’s mind, body and special population programmer, said the physical part of Minds in Motion is similar to other seniors programs, although the instructions are simplified and movements are modified.
“At the end of this course, the expectations are that we do see some sort of physical increase from where they started,” she said.
“We know that the disease they are living with is progressive, so we are never going to be able to stop that progression. But we still feel like they should be able to move and live autonomously.”
Shayna Bowling, program co-ordinator for the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories, also co-ordinates the Minds in Motion program. She said the society was able to bring the program to Alberta thanks to a grant from the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation.
“We’re super excited it’s here in the Edmonton area,” she said.
On the first day of the course, participants went through a pre-course test; on the last day, they will take another test to see how much they have improved.
Bowling said the results will go back to the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, which will assess the program’s success.
“Our hope is that we’ll be able to get the funding … to bring the program here full-time instead of just through the pilot,” Bowling said.
Five classes in, Bowling said she has been excited to see improvement already among the class’s members.
“Just seeing people be able to get a little bit stronger, work on their balance, are things that mean they’re less likely to end up in hospital, having a fall or other kinds of issues,” she said.
She has also watched the relationship between people living with dementia and their care partner grow stronger.
“They have fun, so you see people laughing and smiling together in a way they might not have that day,” she said.
“Seeing them able to embrace participating in life and family together … that’s really exciting for me to see.”
The Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories runs the cognitive portion of the class, which involves brain teasers and games, while the fitness portion is taught by Servus Place instructors.
For Nancy and Orest, the course so far seems to be achieving its goals. They have already met another couple living with dementia whom Orest likes, and a friendship is budding.
Additionally, as a caregiver, Nancy said the course lets her socialize with people facing similar challenges to herself. They can bounce ideas off each other and share their struggles and successes.
“If you can meet people who are like you, then you both understand each other. And it’s a nice way for me as a caregiver to say, ‘Hey, what do you do about this, or do you notice that?’ ” she said.
“I think it’s really important for people to know there’s a program like this out there.”