Play sheds light on different side of dementia

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Professional actresses who have experienced the impact dementia has on loved ones are telling the story from the caregiver’s point of view this weekend.

Calgary’s Life Stages Theatre is bringing the real-life experience of living with dementia to the Okotoks United Church with its production of Family Tear Jan. 20 at 6 p.m.

Professional puppeteer Michelle Warkentin wrote the 75-minute play to create awareness. She was inspired by her family’s experience after her mother-in-law was diagnosed with dementia.

“Everything that’s in the play is what I experienced in my family or what I saw happen in others,” she said. “I wanted to use the arts to be able to touch on those subjects. I wanted to tell the story from the caregivers’ point of view. It’s all based on reality.”

Warkentin said dementia not only hits home for her, but each of the actresses in the play.

“Everybody in the play has dealt with this in their life or was close to it in their life so we all have a special attachment to that,” she said.

Family Tear tells the story of two women struggling to care for their mom, a dementia patient. Warkentin makes use of her puppeteer skills by having a puppet play the role of dementia and what’s going on inside the mom’s mind.

“It offers an understanding of how convoluted things are in her mind and how hard it is for her to get it out,” she said. “They don’t see or hear the puppet.”

The play first hit Calgary stages last year, and the demand for more performances has been growing, said Warkentin.

“People really wanted to see it again,” she said. “This is very honest and very real. It’s hard to sit through. There was a lot of emotion around it.”

Warkentin said she began reaching out to churches and dementia groups in the Calgary area to get it on more stages and to educate the public around the realities of dementia.

“I don’t have the answers, but it’s to get the conversation going and garner support,” she said. “Let’s talk about it and recognize that this can be so isolating when you are all alone taking care of somebody.”

By partnering with dementia groups, Warkentin said it gets information to the public about what supports are available to those in similar situations.

“It’s to say you are not alone, you are with a group and this is what we’re going to do for you,” she said. “Sometimes we have to go to those hard places to open up to allow others to come in. I’m hoping to inspire others to come together and do even more to help each other.”

Dementia Friendly Communities in Okotoks, which operates under the umbrella of the Brenda Strafford Foundation, is working with the church to bring Family Tear to the community.

The play is a great way to build awareness and support, which is the purpose of Dementia Friendly Communities Okotoks when it launched last year, said co-ordinator Jennifer Mallamo.

A vendor fair will also take place with about a dozen dementia support organizations in the community, said Mallamo.

“These are agencies in the community that provide support you need to help your loved one stay where they are at,” she said.

“We want them to stay in their community to remain productive and contribute to the community.

“It really makes a difference for the comfort of the person to remain in their home environment.”

Mallamo said dementia is an overall term for a group of symptoms caused by brain disorders including, but not limited to, memory loss, significant mood and behavior changes and struggles to think, make decisions and communicate.

There is no cure for dementia and the risk increases with age, poor diet, lack of sleep and head injuries.

Risks can be lowered through increased activity, healthy eating, quitting smoking and staying involved in the community.

Mallamo said 564,000 Canadian currently live with dementia, a number that is expected to grow by 25,000 each year.

The Okotoks Public Library is hosting a seminar called Dementia Talks – Risk Reduction Jan. 18 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. where University of Calgary experts will explore ways to minimize the risk of dementia.

Register by calling the library at 403-938-2220.

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