George and Claire Discover the Early Stage Center - Step 3
By Lauren Volkmer, Director of Early Stage Center
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Early Stage Center is a place where people with early stage dementia or Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) come on a weekly basis for groups that provide support, cognitive stimulation, and socialization. Participants are all aware of their memory loss and are seeking to connect with others who are “in the same boat.” Those connections are what make up the unique fabric of our program and the community spirit that exists within our walls. Click here to learn more about Early Stage Services.
“I think it’s about time I face up to this,” George told an Early Stage Center (ESC) staff member. “For a long time I didn’t think there was anything wrong, even though my wife kept pointing out all these little things I was forgetting. I thought this was just what happened when you get older. Now I can see how all those little things have added up.” George, a retired mail carrier, had reached out to us after his wife Claire had attended an Understanding Dementia seminar and came home with information about The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Early Stage Center programs. After an initial phone assessment, George and Claire came to CaringKind to meet with staff about the possibility of joining a group.
George’s initial diagnosis, obtained through a series of tests at a large Brooklyn diagnostic center, was Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). People with MCI generally experience mild changes in their memory, language, and thinking abilities that are measurable, however, these changes are not severe enough to significantly affect their everyday activities. MCI increases the risk of developing a more severe condition like Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the future. Several years after George’s MCI diagnosis, he began noticing major changes in his functioning. After a minor accident in the car, he stopped driving, but he was still able to take the train and bus by himself. He noticed difficulty doing simple, familiar tasks like keeping track of appointments and calculating a tip in a restaurant. He returned to the diagnostic center for more testing, and at that time was informed that his MCI had indeed progressed to early stage AD.
George told the ESC staff member that he had been devastated to learn that his MCI had progressed. He felt betrayed. He had taken the doctor’s recommendations seriously. He took his medication regularly, he did crossword puzzles (which he had always enjoyed), and he stayed physically active (by going to the gym). He and Claire also started going to a social dance program at their local senior center. He wondered whether it was worth continuing to do these things if he was going to progress anyway. The ESC staff member validated his feelings of frustration and anger. The ESC staff member also pointed out George’s strengths: his wry sense of humor, his social connections with a wide circle of friends and family, and his willingness to reach out for help.
George decided to join a MemoryWorks® group. MemoryWorks provides mentally stimulating exercises, like word puzzles and trivia questions, which help keep the brain active and alert. George asked if MemoryWorks would make his memory better, or make his AD progress slower. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that any type of medication or brain exercise can slow or stall the underlying progression of AD in the brain. What the group can do, however, is provide a socially and mentally stimulating experience that connects people with one another, and makes them feel good about their own abilities. Participants have reported an increase in self-confidence as well as a profound relief that they can look around the room and see a group of others who are living and coping with their condition with grace, humor, and dignity.
George went on to become an active member of the ESC community. He participated in the weekly MemoryWorks group for several years, rarely missing a session. He often said that the day he came to the Center was his favorite day of the week. He frequently arrived early for groups and stayed afterwards to have lunch with other participants. His sense of humor and witty social banter, honed over so many years with the customers on his mail route, continued to shine through despite his cognitive difficulties.
Over a long period of time, staff began to notice that George was struggling more and more to participate in the MemoryWorks exercises. Other participants noticed it as well. He no longer left the group feeling positive about his own abilities. He also began having difficulty traveling by himself, and he became tired more quickly. ESC staff connected George and Claire to a different program closer to their home. George was still very much able to be social and to use his fabulous sense of humor, but he needed a different, more supportive setting to better meet his evolving needs. The ESC staff was extremely sad to see him leave, but also grateful for the time he spent in the program. Staff also referred Claire for additional CaringKind services, so that our organization could stay connected with George’s family and continue to provide information and support.
George and Claire’s Journey continues on the next page...