In 2017, when my husband, Steve, started getting lost in our house, I realized it was time for the next step in our Alzheimer’s journey—a move from Seattle to a retirement community in Vancouver. That move, to be closer to my son and daughter-in-law in Portland, meant the loss of our former support community.
That community had changed over the years following Steve’s diagnosis. While some old friends remained in our sphere, others dropped by the wayside. But the most important aspect of our lives post diagnosis were the new friends we made through the many activities we participated in. There were the bi-weekly walking group, fitness classes, dancing, art and music events all intended for those with early- to mid-stage dementia. We were busy with one activity or another every week.
These activities provided so many benefits for us. First, it lessened the isolation I felt as a caregiver. Getting together with others in the same situation became its own support group. I could share the ups and downs of my week with others facing the same challenges. We would exchange strategies or maybe just hugs.
For Steve, the social activities seemed to boost his spirits. He wasn’t always eager to get in the car, but once we arrived he joined right in. Even now I have fond memories of our walks along Alki Beach with a stop at Starbucks afterward.
Building community again
After our move, I looked for similar activities that he and I could do together and found very little. So, after Steve’s passing in 2019, I decided to start some. One of these is the dementia-friendly walking group that is now underway thanks to the sponsorship of the Alzheimer’s Association and Oregon Walks.
What is a dementia-friendly walking group exactly? It’s simply a group of folks with early-stage dementia and their care partners who tromp through parks or neighborhoods while enjoying fresh air, exercise, and the fellowship and support of others.
The group has been meeting weekly since September 21 for mile-and-a-half walks led by trained volunteers and rotating among various neighborhoods—Westmoreland Park in Sellwood, Alberta Park and the Arts District, Pier Park in St. Johns and Willamette Park. Enthusiasm seems to grow each week.
“It is so great to be out walking with other people who have a lot of understanding about Alzheimer’s,” says Jean, one of the regular walkers with her husband, Gordon. “Walking is an exercise that my husband likes a lot. [Before] we were usually out walking by ourselves. After a while that gets to be a drag. That gets to be a rut. Here we are getting out with other people to see beautiful nature. We are so, so, so grateful.”
“This is so valuable, you can’t even begin to imagine,” says Carol, another walker. Her husband, Kent, had been sedentary for two years, she explains, and since participating in three outings with the group he’s walked a mile or more each time. “It’s group motivation that’s doing it,” she continues. “It’s been just amazing. This is fabulous.”
Take your first steps
The walking group will take a break over the holidays. To register for future walks or for more information, contact Katya Samodurov at the Alzheimer’s Association at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, I am going to be brainstorming new ideas for dementia-friendly activities and programs. I’d be interested in hearing from folks about what might be of interest—a drum circle, reading group, dancing, bowling, group singing, art activity, memory café—all depending on COVID-19 protocols, of course. Please email me at email@example.com with any feedback.
In the meantime, get out and walk!
By Anita Thompson