The Gift of Alzheimer's

Relationships are always in transition: when a neighbor moves...after a child graduates from college...as a parent ages. That's life.

As Dr. John Zeisel points out in his book I'm Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer's Care,

"A loved one starting to live with Alzheimer's and the relationship we build with that person is one of those transitions. We have a choice of making this change miserable for everyone, or we can make the best of it. We can do even better—we can improve all our lives by responding to and managing the transition positively."

An Alzheimer's diagnosis does change the relationship. A new one must be built as the realities of the progressive, degenerative and fatal realities of the disease are acknowledged.

It's Dr. Zeisel’s pioneering work in this area—looking at and approaching Alzheimer's with a new perspective—that has prompted the Alzheimer's Association to partner with the Frye Art Museum in Seattle and bring Zeisel to Seattle for Discovery 2013, the Alzheimer's Association 28th Annual Regional Conference on Friday, April 5, at the Washington State Convention Center. For details or to register, click here.

Through his dementia-friendly and non-pharmacological programs approach, which he calls the "I'm Still Here" approach, Zeisel engages us to consider that a person with Alzheimer's or a related dementia still has a life worth living and that persons with dementia still have a continuing curiosity and a desire to learn throughout the disease process. He has put this philosophy into practice and demonstrates its ongoing, evidence-based successes in his work at The Hearthstone Alzheimer's Care communities in Boston and New York City, the I'm Still Here Foundation and ARTZ—Artists for Alzheimer's.

Dr. Zeisel has evolved "I'm Still Here" into a basic theme of "The Gifts of Alzheimer's," helping people make the transition successfully to a new and fulfilling relationship within the reality of an Alzheimer's or related dementia diagnosis. These gifts include cherishing memories, taking care of oneself, having a sense of humor, patience, enjoying the moment, self-awareness, the importance of family, seeing others for who they are, coping with the complicated, listening, and community.

Zeisel includes in his philosophy the need to transition the relationship of our communities to acceptance and one of inclusiveness of persons with dementia. This is where programs like the Frye Art Museum's here:now arts engagement, Alzheimer's Cafés, and our chapter's Early Stage Memory Loss Programs such as the zoo walk, choir and support groups for persons with memory loss come in.

Dr. John Zeisel

Though there is hope in ongoing Alzheimer's research, we still don't have a cure or treatment to stop the progression of Alzheimer's. Every 68 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer's disease. In our state alone, we have over 150,000 individuals with Alzheimer's and over 350,000 family and friends who care for them. Most of them will live with Alzheimer's for over a decade.

Zeisel's "I'm Still Here" approach offers a way to connect with someone with Alzheimer's through abilities that don't diminish with time, such as responding to music, art, facial expressions, touch and other human interactions. Zeisel's non-pharmacological approaches to treating Alzheimer's show that people with the illness are highly creative and emotionally intelligent, and that by harnessing these abilities and using proven strategies, caregivers can transition to new and rewarding relationships that last for the entire course of the disease.


Keri Pollock directs communications for the Alzheimer's Association Western & Central Washington State Chapter. For information on programs, services and research, visit www.alzwa.org or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.

For Your Calendar

John Zeisel: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer's Care

Thursday, April 4, 2013, 6:30–8:00 p.m. — Town Hall

Discovery 2013: 28th Annual Alzheimer's Regional Conference

Friday, April 5, 2013 — Washington State Convention Center

Meet Me at the Frye and Make Memories

Saturday, April 6, 2013 — Frye Art Museum

For details, see the Calendar in this issue.