Dementia Awareness Finds an Advocate in Saline
By: Matt Jensen
Mental health and its effects has become a very common topic for many families, businesses, and even government officials. In the past decade, the stigmas of talking about mental health and the difficulties surrounding it has begun to fade. This is a very positive development according to Jim Mangi, who is the chair of Dementia Friendly Saline.
“We need to talk about stigma, early warning, how to get help, how to get education as a caregiver. I didn’t know how to take care of [my wife] in the early days. I didn’t reach out for help because I felt embarrassed,” Jim says.
So now Jim makes it his mission to help others who might find themselves in a similar situation. He wants to talk about the difficult issues so that others can avoid the mistakes he feels he made. He works as a volunteer for the Alzheimer's education association traveling to local areas to give talks and workshops on Dementia friendly practices.
Through the work of his organization, Dementia Friendly Saline, the city has been recognized as one of only two Dementia friendly communities in Michigan. “That’s a work in progress,” Jim says. “We have a number of organizations, churches, businesses etc that have learned how to operate in a Dementia friendly fashion. But I won’t be satisfied until everyone in Saline that has any dealings with the public has been educated in Dementia friendliness.”
Jim and his friends offer 45 minute workshops to the public or any bank, church, or organization that is interested in becoming a more Dementia friendly location. In addition, he also organizes monthly Memory Cafes where anyone who is dealing with Dementia – either living with it, or caring for someone who is – can come and enjoy time with others who are in the same situation.
“It’s an opportunity for all of these people dealing with dementia either directly or indirectly to come together, have a good time and connect with one another in an embarrassment free zone. Many people who are dealing with dementia in themselves or others hesitate to go out into the public, like to a concert or a social gathering, because they are afraid they will do something embarrassing. But no one needs to worry about that at a Memory Cafe because everyone in the room is on the same dementia journey. It is an empowering situation,” Jim says.
So far there have been 25 Memory Cafe events. They occur monthly, and have been for over two years. Impressively, the program has grown from two couples getting together, to about 40 people or more. One of the initial goals of the meetups was to make available a large set of resources and literature from good and reliable organizations. Those organizations want to provide evidence based information for folks dealing with dementia.
The activities at the events have been varied and exciting. According to Jim, live music is always a hit whether it's a concert put on by a local artist or a fun drum circle where folks can try their hand at various instruments. But they also do artistic and craft programs as well. For Halloween they had a Pumpkin painting activity. Recently, Jim experienced some unexpected joy at that event when a group of college students signed up to do some volunteer work in the community.
“We brought a whole bunch of students who helped set up and take down the preparations. But we paired up the students with couples to help them out with decorating their craft. Without us telling them what to do, the students sat down and engaged with these couples and they had these wonderful conversations with the older folks. We could see that both the young people and older people were really enjoying their time. It was a wonderful intergenerational experience that we hadn’t even planned that way!”
Jim and his friends want to help make Saline and the larger Michigan community as open and friendly a place as they can to those living with dementia. If you or your organization are interested in being a part of this effort, you can contact him at email@example.com and check out the website DFSaline.org. The Memory Cafes are hosted in the Social Hall at Holy Faith Church in Saline every third Wednesday of each month. They are also open to remote attendance via Zoom. The next event is Wednesday the 21st of December.
Photos Credit: DFSaline.org