In a move to slow down memory loss for people with early-stage dementia, the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey is teaming up with JCC MetroWest in West Orange and TV executive Jonathan Littman, originally a New Jerseyan, in sponsoring an experimental program called The Memory Center.
“Obviously the aging community is growing and the number of people with memory impairment will be increasing,” said foundation executive director Marsha Atkind. “There are programs for people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. But people in the early stages who can’t function in a regular adult center have no place to go, and there is no place for their caregivers to take them so the caregivers can get respite.”
The Memory Center, she said, will be “for people in the middle who really need support. Dementia is a devastating disease, and the people who have it and the people who love the people who have it need support,” Atkind told NJ Jewish News in a July 18 phone interview. “It will slow down their decline and give them as much stimulation as it can.”
“This has been a need in the community for a very long time,” said Sharon Gordon, director of JCC MetroWest’s Center for Adult Enrichment, noting the dearth of programs for seniors with memory impairment. “There are a lot of senior centers, but they are for independent people…. Many programs include lectures, discussion groups, and things of a more intellectual basis that are not appropriate for people with impaired memories. Those programs can be frustrating for people with dementia.”
Gordon’s agency will house the three-days-a-week program once it begins in mid-September. It will include music, physical exercise, gardening, and arts and crafts as well as discussions focusing on reminiscence.
“We want to get their minds as active as they can get,” said Gordon. “If people with dementia get such stimulation, it sometimes will slow down the progression of their condition.” The Memory Center will be staffed initially by a director certified to work with people with dementia, a group worker, and a certified nursing assistant.
The program will have sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will be open to the entire community, non-Jews as well as Jews. “But there will be a Jewish flavor with holiday programs,” said Gordon. The cost is $70 a day; limited financial aid will be available.
“We hope to open with at least six people, and our maximum number of participants is 16,” Gordon said. Each applicant will be interviewed “to make sure it’s a good fit.”
The program, however, will not be equipped for those with “aggression issues,” Gordon said.
In addition to their own activities, the participants will also be able to attend concerts, theatrical performances, and other programs at the JCC “so that they can be part of our community and still be safe,” Gordon added. “We can also do intergenerational programs with our nursery school.”
The Memory Center will be a companion piece to programs for caregivers funded by the foundation that were begun several years ago by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ’s two Jewish Family Service agencies, JFS of Central NJ and JFS of MetroWest, as well as the foundation-funded dementia unit at the Daughters of Israel nursing home in West Orange.
“Over the years we have struggled to find appropriate programming for seniors with dementia,” said JFS MetroWest executive director Reuben Rotman, “and this center will be a welcome addition to our community’s services for older adults. We are confident that this center will increase the quality of life for participants and their families.”
One third of the $150,000 funding comes from the Healthcare Foundation. Two thirds was provided by Littman, who moved to the Los Angeles area from his native West Orange in 1989. He has been the driving force behind such popular television shows as CSI, Cold Case, and The Amazing Race.
In an e-mail to NJJN, Littman explained that his father, who still lives in New Jersey, is suffering from dementia. “When my father’s illness began to worsen, we were surprised there was no program in the area to work with people suffering from memory impairment diseases.
“It is my hope that this new program becomes a vital resource both for the patients and their families for many years to come,” he wrote.
Those interested in the program can contact Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-530-3480.