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Treatment for Memory Loss: The Memory Club

A few blocks from my bed-and-breakfast hotel in a former Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem, I visited the Frankforter Center for the Aged, a multipurpose drop-in center. The lower courtyard and adjacent rooms are the domain of The Memory Club, a program for distressed elders who usually fall through the cracks.

Leah Abromovitz, a geriatric social worker at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, developed the Memory Club model for elders who are becoming dependent on caregivers because of mild memory decline but are not suitable for typical Alzheimer programs.

As part of my visit to the club I speak with Aya Zlotogora, a Haifa-born expressive arts therapist (who, incidentally, studied at Lesley College). A trim woman radiating a quiet warmth, she takes a few minutes away from the group of elders drawing at a large table to explain one of the principles of the Memory Club approach. Although dementing illness is progressive, memory can be enhanced if elders learn to use a wide spectrum of both concrete and non-concrete sensory information. Art, for example, stimulates their non-concrete senses - the realm of inner feeling, intuition, and the ability to analyze. Increased awareness of such concrete senses as touch and smell is developed through movement, cooking and animal therapy.

Aya then shows me the Club members’ art works which are professionally matted and exhibited. The themes include memories of arriving in Israel and favorite places they have visited. Aya monitors their achievements with reverence and seriousness. All drawings are carefully stored in individual folders and are shared with their families at special events.

As a complement to sensory enhancement, memory techniques are taught in informal classroom settings. For the common problem of misplacing a key, Club members practice sensory aware-ness of how the key looks and how the metal feels and they say out loud where it is being put. Computer therapies are also being introduced. The software for individualized cognitive games is being developed, I was told, by the husband of one of the staff social workers.

The Memory Club is promoted as a structured self-help program rather than a day center for impaired elders. Members (who may be unaware of their diagnosis) view the Club as an opportunity to learn new cognitive skills and thereby enhance the quality of their lives. They may return to activities they previously enjoyed but had given up, or they may feel empowered to maintain an activity that had been jeopardized. Depressive symptoms may be alleviated and family tensions ease. In support groups they express their frustrations with cognitive deficits and identify their coping strengths. Through reciprocal relationship with other members of the Club they overcome patterns of isolation.

The Memory Club is a treatment model for counteracting the mild deterioration of cognitive processes, alleviating anxious and depressed reactions to early symptoms of dementia, and supporting participants to maintain an active, decision-making role in their lives. When Club members regain their self-confidence, "their personalities begin to come out and shine,’’ observed Bernice Schwartz, a social worker originally from Florida who directs an English-language Club, "and wonder of wonders, their memory comes back as if a fog had lifted."

FOCUS Newsletter - June 2001


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