MNSU event discusses dementia and the lives affected

Hellen Akinyi
Staff Writer

An estimated 5.8 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s – the most common form of dementia, which is predicted to increase up to 14 million by 2050.

Various organizations have taken necessary steps to bring awareness to the community about this including Kristen Abbott-Anderson, assistant professor of nursing, and Dr. H Sheen Chiou, a professor in the Department of Speech, Hearing and Rehabilitation Services at Minnesota State University, Mankato. With the help of Aaron Hoy, the assistant professor of sociology and the director of the Aging Studies Program, they all decided to take the initiative and talk to students at the university, both being driven by passion and the fact that the disorder hits close to home.

Despite both women being in different fields, the passion for the disorder is what brought them together. They organized and started different activities and events such as the singing hills chorus and garden engagement.

With both the activities being the peak of their interests. Their goals are similar but both have different way of creating awareness. “Our aim is to be able to create a dementia friendly environment by either offering training on how to deal with different people with dementia,” said Abbott-Anderson.

“It’s the little things that we all can do just to make anyone living with the disorder wear a smile on their face, like talking to them or just being patient with them,” added Dr. Chiou.

One may wonder how they have a singing choir for people with dementia, claiming they can’t learn a new song and memorise it since they forget quite first. They have rehearsals at least once a week in the School of Sisters and that’s where they also perform most of their concerts. The main mission of the singing hill group is to be able to have activities for people with the disease and create a common understanding for them. They also involve anyone in the community with a passion to help through their volunteer programme. The volunteer care givers do different things from helping the members move to actually sing with them and offer any assistance.

Abbott-Anderson continued, “As a way to make the rehearsals more fun, the pianist randomly plays certain keys in between and the members get up and start dancing, while those who can’t move get assisted by the caregivers.”

She added, “It’s a secret that only he knows so its always a surprise because no one knows when he will play the keys, so it’s always fun since its always at different times.”

As the singing hill choir is more of singing, the garden engagement is the opposite. They grow different herbs like chai, rosemary and bezel which smell good. And according to Dr. Chiou, smell is a key when it comes to people with dementia. “It helps them remember some of their long-term memories,” said Dr. Chiou.

The garden has wide paths, so anyone who comes to the garden with walkers or wheelchairs is able to get to the different herbs with ease. They also have a bench at the back just for them to be able to sit when they get tired.

Some of the goals for the garden engagement are, to be able to provide a space for people with dementia to be physically active, to allow them to live in the moment and believe the fact that they can still do anything. They also allow volunteers and caregivers to learn more about living with people with dementia, and creating a community that allows them to know that they belong somewhere.

Through the garden, people with dementia learn by seeing the crops, hearing different sounds while in the garden like birds chirping, feeling the texture by touching the crops and the smell from the herbs, and sometimes taste too. All this may somehow trigger an old memory for them which is a good thing.

The garden, for now, is a summer project and they are hoping it will grow every year. With the singing group, they having a concert on Dec. 14 and Abbott-Anderson invited the crowd to attend it if they weren’t busy.

Header photo courtesy of Flickr.

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