Since 2012 “Overcoming the stigma of dementia” has been in discussion worldwide by members of Alzheimer’s Disease International. For some, dementia is part of the normal ageing process. For others dementia is considered a mental illness. Rather than seek activities to improve caregiving and quality of life, people are isolated, even hidden away with assumptions nothing can be done to help them anyway. This is counter to ADI’s vision and goal to increase public awareness and understanding, thus, seeking a shift towards acceptance and inclusion of people affected by dementia.
Kasey Watson, administrator/owner of Garden House of Morro Bay, an award-winning home for mature adults, including those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, has wrestled with overcoming this stigma. In 2017 she discovered the true value of the age-old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Annually her nonprofit produced a calendar so she got the idea to feature willing residence in their favorite daily activity or an activity they used to perform regularly. She thought the exercise would be great for the residence and just might be the magic needed to overcoming ADI’s dilemma to further the international dialogue. Here is Watson’s story:
“Just point your camera, Luke,” said Kasey Watson. “Judy’s moment will be showing you how she hasn’t forgotten how to flirt.”
Internationally accomplished photographer Luke Severn and Watson collaborated recently to release their 2017 calendar. The seventh annual calendar profits provide subsidies for veterans or their spouses to afford the “gold standard round-the-clock care” provided Garden House of Morro Bay. Previous calendars featured paintings produced by residents during MnemaTherapy sessions (www.artwithoutbounderies.net) conducted by Watson while contracted by Gari Cave, the owner of Garden House before Watson’s family purchased it in 2013. Numerous art pieces have been exhibited locally, at California’s State Capitol in Sacramento and at the University of Southern California.
However, as Watson witnessed the benefits of the art and music therapy sessions, she realized a gnawing at her psyche – a growing desire to provoke a worldwide attitude adjustment towards those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
“If the world could see what I see,” she said. “If people – even their families — could see with their hearts instead of what they think they see with their eyes.”
Case in point, she introduced Severn to Richard Gatchel who had spent a career teaching philosophy and religious studies at the university level. “He is always the gentleman,” said Watson. “He loves to walk arm in arm and finds such peace watching the boats in Morro Bay.”
Severn was in between assignments with clients such as the Guggenheim and Bridges of Hope, South Africa when he decided to volunteer at Garden House. He’d grown up with a loved one who had Alzheimer’s and wanted to spend some time helping wherever he was needed. When Watson discovered Severn’s desire “…to reveal the deep connections between real people with real stories using my passion for photography…” the concept for the 2017 calendar was born.
Watson wanted to capture her residents experiencing that moment of joy remembering what they struggled day-to-day to recall. “MnemeTherapy gave me a solid foundation to recognize strengths and deficits in our residents so I was prepared to operate Garden House,” she said. Being onsite full-time confirmed her hypothesis, “They’re still in there wanting to relive the good times — hungry to tell their story.”
Wally Jackson retired from PG&E. His children say he was always optimistic. Watson was called in during his darkest days spent in his trailer with alcohol his chosen friend. Secure now at Garden House, he enjoys leading the breakfast table in song yet faces each day with extreme anxiety, a compulsive routine and fears going out. Watson thought his intense politeness might enable him to accept the offer for an outing in a classic car. Indeed, Wally enjoyed a memorable ride around Morro Bay.
Sybil Crook can no longer sequence or follow pattern instructions, but she loves talking sewing all day any day. Each square sparks a memory of who wore her creations or good times spent quilting with her sister.
Gerry Maddren was born in San Francisco in 1924. She met her husband while attending college in Oregon. An only child she loved raising seven children while writing books and children’s short stories. Although her creativity today is consigned to coloring books, she continues to model her sophisticated upbringing so Severn recaptured her 1988 pose depicted on her book jacket for The Case of the Johannisberg Reisling.
Ruth Ericson spent her early years playing golf at Marshall Cangory Country Club in Claremont, CA. Very competitive, she sunk three lifetime holes-in-one. At first, she didn’t mingle well at Garden House. She titled her first MnemeTherapy painting “Misfit.” Ruth called Watson crazy when she suggested they go to the golf course. But Ruth remembered exactly how to grip her putter, exactly how to sink the ball, has exact recall of that memorable day and won’t hesitate when invited to enjoy another moment on the golf course.
Tony and Aggie Wisniewski married and operated a citrus ranch in Sanger. They moved to Cayucos in 1978 and Tony planted 80 rose bushes. Each day he brings her his gift. She smells the bouquet then returns his gift – her joyful smile.
“This is me,” all twelve portraits shout, “enjoying a moment. I’m here and I haven’t forgotten…”
To find out more about Garden House, MnemeTherapy, or make a $20 donation to receive the 2017 calendar go to www.gardenhousemorrobay.org.
Note: the 2019 calendar features residence enjoying life at Garden Housing especially the new gardens created by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students – from design to permitting with the city and landscape construction, they have produced a student project of beauty and all documented in the calendar.
Another note: Looking for a wonderful place to work. Garden House is periodically looking for caregivers. They will train.
April 6, 2019: Garden House is participating in the Morro Bay Citywide Yard Sale. Check it out.