Funding awards allow expanded efforts
The Methow Valley has an aging population, which means a growing number of community members have dementia.
But the valley’s remote location, and lack of government-supported services and in-home caregivers, makes it a difficult place for residents with dementia, and the people who are trying to help them.
Methow At Home, a local nonprofit organization that works to help seniors age in place, saw the need fill the gaps in caring for people with dementia. In 2022, Methow at Home introduced education and training programs to support local residents dealing with dementia.
Two funding awards this year, totaling more than $111,000, will allow Methow At Home to significantly expand programs for people with dementia and their care partners, to help improve quality of life and reduce stress and isolation.
“It’s often hard to talk about cognitive changes with friends and family, especially in a small community, and it’s harder still to maintain social engagement when your family is navigating these tender issues,” said Salyna Gracie, Methow at Home executive director.
“Methow At Home identified many families with dementia in the household without critical support and often unprepared to meet the advancing needs of caring for loved ones,” she said.
The dementia-related education and training programs introduced last year won Methow At Home recognition from the Richard and Maude Ferry Charitable Foundation in Seattle. Methow At Home received a $25,000 “Maude’s Award,” which rewards innovation that enriches lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.
Methow At Home also received a $86,000 gift this year from the Moccasin Lake Foundation, which is based in the Methow Valley and Seattle.
Funding from both foundations will support current and new dementia-related programs, including a new pilot program that uses art as a way to engage and empower people with dementia, Gracie said.
The funding is significant for a small organization like Methow At Home, which was founded only eight years ago. Methow At Home is one of only three organizations in the nation, out of more than 100 applicants, to receive the $25,000 Maude’s Award.
“For me, the takeaway is that it brings us to a national level, honoring a small community for trying to do big work,” Gracie said.
The “big work” of Methow at Home aims to address the needs of a growing segment of the Methow Valley population. The valley’s senior population is growing eight times as fast as the Methow’s population as a whole, according to a recent study commissioned by local social service providers.
By 2025, the number of residents aged 65 and older is expected to make up 31% of the valley’s population. Based on those findings, Methow At Home estimates that up to 360 residents either have dementia or will be diagnosed soon, “prompting a growing need for dementia education and care partner training,” Gracie said.
Last year, Methow At Home began offering three dementia-related programs, developed in collaboration with other community agencies, including Okanogan Palliative Care, Jamie’s Place, Lookout Coalition, and End of Life WA.
The free training programs “have increased more specialized dementia care, allowing more people to live with dementia and safely age in place in the community that they love,” Gracie said.
A four-week program called “Caring For People Living with Dementia” offers workshop sessions about dementia and all its presentations, improving communication and dealing with difficult behaviors, and self-care for care partners. A new four-week program will begin on Nov. 21.
Methow At Home has also developed a program to train volunteers to provide respite care for community members who are caring for people with dementia. The training provides education about dementia and the process of cognitive decline, improving communication skills, increasing compassion, and understanding of the role of a volunteer care partner.
A third program, “Advanced Care Planning for Dementia,” guides families in understanding their choices and creating a clear plan when receiving a dementia diagnosis.
With the recent funding awards, Methow At Home will launch a new year-long pilot program called “Methow Creative Aging” that will use hands-on art activities to provide creative self-expression for people with dementia.
“There is much research that points to the act of making art in helping a person to process anxiety, anger, grief and loss as increased memory loss, confusion and physical limitations progress with dementia,” Gracie said.
The program will train care partners and volunteers to work with people who have dementia, teaching them how to build relationships, and how to customize art-making sessions to meet a person’s specific needs, interests and abilities. The sessions will offer ways to work with people one-on-one, or in group settings.
Volunteer training sessions will be held quarterly, taught by local teaching artist Janet Fagan. In addition to numerous art degrees, Fagan also received training through the Frye Museum Creative Aging program in Seattle. The first training is scheduled for Nov. 11.
As part of the arts initiative, Methow At Home will also offer “Methow Creative Aging Memory Care Cafes” several times throughout the year, with the first on Nov. 28 at Confluence Art Gallery.
The Memory Care Cafes, also led by Fagan, include hands-on art making along with music, discussion, storytelling and other creative experiences for people with dementia and their care partners. The programs aim to reduce isolation and increase cognitive, social and creative engagement.
A participant in Methow At Home’s course on caring for people with dementia said the program helped her understand the disease and learn to care for her mother after she was diagnosed with dementia.
“Presented by experienced professionals, the classes were personal, accessible, and provided much-needed, hands-on education and support to me and my family,” the woman told Methow At Home.
“They not only offer critical training for caregivers but also prepare this community to recognize dementia and other age-related issues as a part of life, provide a network for families to stay connected, and start the conversation on ways to include these people in the community in a meaningful way.”
Another participant said the program made him feel less isolated, and helped him recognize the need to take care of himself.
“It was deeply comforting to know other people are going through the same thing. It made me realize I was in danger because of the ongoing stress. The class helped me to understand how important self-care is as the primary caregiver,” he said.
Creating this kind of community support is the “bigger dream” of Methow At Home — “making the Methow Valley a dementia-friendly community … that foster(s) the ability of people living with dementia to remain in community and engage and thrive in day-to-day living,” Gracie said.
“Methow At Home sees a future where our community is inclusive and holistic, where we understand the unique challenges to memory care and co-create a network of support that exemplifies the ‘can do’ attitude of the Methow Valley community,” Gracie said.
Upcoming dementia-related programs
Methow Creative Aging Volunteer Training
Free training for volunteers in how to lead four art activities while promoting a joyful experience for care partners and people with dementia. Nov. 11, 9 a.m.-noon, at Winthrop library Community Room.
Caring for People Living with Dementia
Free four-week course to learn about dementia and develop strategies for a positive approach to care. Nov. 21, 28, Dec. 5, Dec. 12, 2-4 p.m., at Twisp Valley Grange.
Methow Creative Aging Memory Care Cafe
Free hands-on art making for people with dementia and care partners in a setting designed to promote confidence and inspire joy. Nov. 28, 2-4 p.m., at Confluence: Art in Twisp.
For information or to register, go to methowathome.org, or call (509) 996-5844.