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Program to help seniors remember

Seniors who may be suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's and dementia will now be able to spend a few hours each Wednesday working on memory enhancement.

The Wednesday Club Memory Enhancement program at North Bend's Mount Si Senior Center starts today. According to Tammy Clark of the Sno-Valley Senior Center in Carnation, the whole point of the program is "to kind of use what you still have." The program is the first of its kind in the area.

The program is a club setting with activities that build self-esteem and create socialization opportunities.

"It is important for folks to get out and to be with other people," Clark said.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer's or dementia, Clark said it is possible to slow the effects of these conditions by allowing people to participate in activities in which they have to use their minds.

Some of the activities will include simple crafts with just a few directions, as well as exercises, word puzzles, art projects and a lot of reminiscing games.

On Jan. 4, an open house was held for individuals to stop by and get information on the program. Free memory screenings were offered and people who showed up were able to participate in games like those that will be used in the program.

In one game, participants are prompted to remember particular things by being asked questions such as: "Have you ever lived on a farm?"; "Have you ever been bitten by a dog?"; "Have you ever hidden money?"; and, "Have you ever helped put out a fire?" Then the participant would try to remember the event and talk to the group about it.

"We do a whole lot of reminiscing," Clark said.

Cheryl Faust-Wilson, the clinical director for the geriatric psychiatric unit at Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, did memory screenings at the open house.

Faust-Wilson said the screenings, or mini mental status exams, give her an idea of how an individual's memory, judgment and ability to think abstractly are functioning.

The first section asks questions about orientation, including which year, season and month it is, and which state, county and city the person resides in. Faust-Wilson said most people do well with questions that involve long-term memory, because it stays intact longer.

To test short-term memory, Faust-Wilson asks individuals to remember three objects for a short period of time by listing them and then coming back to them a few minutes later in the exam. She said people with memory problems rarely remember all three.

Faust-Wilson also looks at the individual's ability to pay attention and calculate by asking them to count backwards from 100 by seven.

"If that's something that they can't even begin to do, I ask them to spell the word 'world' backwards," she said. "A lot of times people can't do that either."

She does a couple of tests on language, including asking participants to repeat a simple phrase to her and then asking them to write another simple phrase down.

The last thing she asks the person being tested to do is copy a five-sided design she shows them. She looks to see if all the lines are there, if they are slanted the way they should be and whether the individual recognizes that they intersect.

"That gives me a really good idea about how their mind is working," she said.

The screening has a possible score of 30 and Faust-Wilson said if a person misses more than three or four it indicates there is some memory loss. If the score is in the low teens or lower, it indicates significant cognitive problems.

She suggests individuals take their scores to their doctors and that they are re-tested every three to six months to see how their mental capacities are changing.

"It's a simple tool," she said. "But it's really important, good information."

The screenings are also important to the caregivers of those with memory loss, Faust-Wilson said. She often helps caregivers understand the illnesses and how to work with those who are suffering from them.

The program at Mount Si begins Jan. 18 and will run from 10 a.m. to noon for six weeks. The Wednesday Club Memory Enhancement program offers five hours of activities - from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. - with a professional social worker and activity memory specialist for $30. Scholarships are available. There is also a free course for caregivers in conjunction with the Wednesday Club program offered.

* For information on either program, call Tammy Clark at the Sno-Valley Senior Center, (425) 333-4152. This program is made available by a grant from the Brookdale Foundation, Sno-Valley Senior Center Adult Day Health Program and the Mount Si Senior Center. The Mount Si Senior Center is located at 411 Main Ave. S.

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