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Abbotsford dementia program hopes to keep the mind ticking

Abbotsford News - 3/14/2019

By keeping dementia patients' minds active through art, music and other activities in a tightly knit setting, a retired Abbotsford couple hopes to slow the progression of their condition.

Ramsey Oren and Leslie Stettler previously opened their home to visitors by running a bed-and-breakfast, but the heritage home set in Clayburn village will soon be opening its doors to small groups of dementia patients through a program akin to a daycare.

The couple has formed the First Light Social Club, a non-profit society with the Province of B.C. and hope to eventually become a charitable organization recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Oren has a background in nursing, while Stettler was the principal and owner of the Global Montessori school in Langley for 25 years, experience she hopes to bring to elder care.

In particular, Stettler said she's interested in fostering an environment of independence – taking a step back and allowing those taking part in their day programs to work on projects such as art or cognitive puzzles on their own with minimal guidance.

Stettler said First Light should stand out as a dementia-related program for its individualized program in a tight-knit,home-like setting.

"The programs that we've visited to do our research, that's what we saw – a lot of people in a large room more or less doing the same thing, and this is more individualized," Stettler said.

The hope of the program is to keep early to moderate dementia patients from progressing in their condition too quickly. Oren said that can, to some degree, be achieved through keeping the mind active, such as music and "reminiscence therapy."

"[That will] get them thinking about other things that relate to that to re-establish those neural pathways," Oren said.

They also use activities like gardening, visual arts, cognitive games, exercise, a reading club and "meaningful activities," including leisure and social activities.

"We're talking about helping them to perhaps hang onto some of those skills that may be slipping away," Stettler said. "It is helping them to feel a sense of accomplishment – 'I can do this.' "

There's some evidence to support the notion that some of these activities can help alleviate symptoms of dementia.

A February 2018 review of academic literature on ways to address dementia symptoms, published in the Gerontological Society of America's academic journal The Gerontologist, notes moderate evidence supporting reminiscence therapy's "positive effects on mood, depression and agitation or distress in the short term."

It also notes moderate evidence of short-term positive effects of music therapy in reducing symptoms of dementia, including anxiety, agitation and apathy, as well as positive effects of exercise on agitation and depression among dementia patients.

However, in each category, the review notes limitations in the studies to date, including in terms of sample sizes.

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