Early Stage Center Update

lauren volkmer

Director of Early Stage Center

It’s been a busy time in the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Early Stage Center. In the past year, Maria Mursch, formerly of our Social Work Services department, has stepped into the role of Manager of Early Stage Center, and I have transitioned from our Training department into the role of Director of Early Stage Center. We maintain a full schedule of groups each week at the Early Stage Center, providing a wide range of support and activities for our participants.

Our core Early Stage groups are:

MemoryWorks® - Mentally stimulating exercises including word games and brain teasers that help keep the brain active and alert

Connections – A lively and fun discussion about trivia, current events, history, and more

Support Groups – A place for early-stage people to talk with others about the experience of living and coping with their illness

These groups meet weekly for an hour and a half and provide participants with the opportunity to engage in activities and discussion within a supportive environment. Early Stage Center participants may also attend our weekly Movie Matinee (popcorn included!), socialize or read the newspaper in the Community Room, or use the computer. We also provide a rotating schedule of special programs including volunteerism, yoga, and the creative arts. As such, our clients have participated in many special events over the past few months.

In September, at the suggestion of our group participants, we offered a three-session, peer-driven workshop titled “Sharing Strategies for Living with Early Stage Memory Loss.” Participants shared experiences and ideas and worked together to create a list of helpful, practical tips. The strategies and tips were so plentiful that we will be publishing them in future editions of the newsletter. The group was excited to share their stories of how they adapt to situations on a daily basis, and hoped that others would use the information to better understand how to manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of early memory loss.

On October 18, the Early Stage Center “Walking Thunder” team raised both funds and awareness at our annual Walk. Each year, Early Stage Center participants come together with their family and friends to show their strength and resilience by walking in Riverside Park. In the weeks leading up to the Walk, Center participants volunteered their time to assist our staff in preparing Walk materials. There was much laughter and camaraderie throughout the process, and all involved felt that they were contributing in a meaningful way to the cause.

In November and December, we launched a pilot of our first-ever improvisational theater group. The group was modeled on The Memory Ensemble™, a collaboration between Northwestern University and Lookingglass Theatre Company. The group was led by our staff social workers with support from various theatrical professionals. We particularly thank Johnna Scrabis, an improviser and teacher with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, for her active role in the collaboration. Participants met for five weeks to play and create with one another in a supportive environment. We were impressed and pleased to see the degree of focus, spontaneity, and emotional exploration that occurred in the groups. And there was a large, healthy dose of laughter as well!

Most recently in March, again driven by our participants' requests, we offered a workshop for early-stage people and their families titled “Planning for the Future.” Daniel G. Fish, Esq. gave an overview of the legal and financial documents that everyone should have. We then enjoyed lunch followed by a facilitated discussion about end-of-life care. For some it was a reminder of conversations they have already had, for others it was the first step towards stating their wishes to their family. These are often difficult conversations, but still very important.

Looking ahead, we will expand our services even further. More educational events for participants and their care partners, specialized arts-based programs, and our annual Early Stage Gathering are in the works. Although no one chooses to have early-stage Alzheimer’s as part of their own or their family’s story, we are here to support people in this stage with creativity, humor, and dignity.