By Mary Caldwell, Helpline and Early Stage Program Manager, Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter
Imagine that you are a newly retired, or soon to be retired adult, with big plans for how you intend to spend your golden years traveling, perhaps with a partner, enjoying visits with family, taking time finally to truly enjoy the life you have built. Now, imagine receiving a diagnosis of dementia at this time and being told that you will experience a cognitive decline over an unknown period of time, to an unknown extent, with symptoms that are life altering and also unknown at this time. Suddenly, those long-awaited days of retirement become long waits for Neurology appointments. It seems as if the ground has shifted and the entire world changes-everything becomes about the diagnosis.
Not a scenario anyone wants to imagine, right? Pretty much everyone’s worst nightmare? Why? Well, for one thing-it is a scary diagnosis. Scary to bear, scary to hear, scary to process, and foreign as all get out to most people. This is also why people living with dementia and their care partners become at risk for isolation very early in a diagnosis.
In professional circles, a common sentiment to hear years ago was that if a person could pronounce Alzheimer’s, they were an expert. To this day, there remains a severe lack of knowledge as well as pervasive negative stigma about dementia. Thankfully, we have experienced some progress in the past decade. However, Alzheimer’s is still a foreign and terrifying concept to most people. So those experiencing this journey are often left to deal with it in relative isolation.
The Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association seeks to provide meaningful interventions to offset this isolation by offering a comprehensive state-wide program for those with a diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment, Early-Stage Alzheimer’s, or other related dementias. Of the twenty or more virtual programs offered each month, the most popular is always the Carpe Diem Luncheon that takes place at various restaurants in the Metro-Atlanta area on the third Wednesday of the month. We are so happy to be able to gather again in person for this event now that COVID restrictions are lifted!
Every culture has its own holidays and celebrations that mark the calendar and separate the sacred from the profane. Almost all of these celebrations, though different in origin, include a meal shared with others- a coming together around the table to break bread and share time with others. This time-honored tradition of humans gathering to break bread provides sustenance for body and soul. Our Carpe Diem, Early-Stage Luncheon offers exactly that for its members.
It is difficult to put into words the buoyant feeling of joy and connection we share at the Carpe Diem table. Do not expect a staid, proper, quiet group of retirees meeting to complain about ailments and those darn millennials. Nope. On the contrary, the friends living with dementia who meet to share Carpe Diem Luncheon are boisterous, hungry, funny- too busy connecting and catching up, making new friends, and enjoying conversation to complain.
We meet at Athens Pizza in Decatur, or Chilis in Dunwoody, or Grapevines in Dahlonega, or De Palmas in Athens, sometimes somewhere very special like Petite Violette for Valentines. Members express that the normalcy of the luncheon-the opportunity to connect with others on the same road at a common table is exactly what the doctor ordered at a time when life can get overwhelming.
In fact, this luncheon is what Alzheimer’s disease experts order. Socialization is one of the key lifestyle interventions that people living with early stage diagnosis and their care partners are urged to adopt and practice along with a healthy diet, daily exercise, cognitive strategies, and lowering stress. An active lifestyle is a cognitive exercise! The members of the Georgia Chapter Early-Stage Program gave their group the name Carpe Diem because they recognize the need to seize the day and take every opportunity to connect in community in order to maintain joy in life as we age-and importantly, as we live with dementia.
Joy is not a word often associated with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. But join us at a Carpe Diem luncheon, and you will soon experience the revolutionary joy we have the audacity to share in this community we have created together. Yes, we also share support groups, museum tours, and education classes. We do have serious conversations at times about all of the challenges and sadness that does come with any chronic diagnosis. But we also share joy, laughter, a darn good joke whenever we can.
If you, or someone you know, would like more information about the Carpe Diem Early-Stage Program of the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter, please call our 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900. The state-wide program is designed for both the person living with dementia and their primary care partners.
For more information about the care and support services, including the early stage programs, visit alz.org/georgia