Understanding aging

Center for Living brings a new program, Dementia Friends, to the Island.


Mary Holmes, supervisor at the Supportive Day Program at the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, is happy to bring Dementia Friends to the Island. The program is a social action movement developed by the Alzheimer’s Society in the U.K. Massachusetts is one of the first places in the country to launch the Dementia Friends program. It aims to give people an understanding of dementia and the small things we can all do to make a difference for people living with the disease in our communities.

Holmes came across the program in a training by Beth Soltzberg, director of Alzheimer’s/Related Disorders Family Support of Jewish Family & Children’s Service, who also coordinates Dementia Friendly Massachusetts.

Holmes says, “Our work is with adults working with all kinds of disabilities. And I’ve felt that we need to help people realize that you can live a good life with a dementia diagnosis. You can still have lots of joy, lots of fun. You can have laughs, and still be in love with people. It can be a tough road for family and caregivers, but one of the things Dementia Friendly Massachusetts is trying to do is educate the public on how to make things easier for people living with dementia.”

There are more than 130,000 people with dementia in Massachusetts. To make the Vineyard dementia-friendly, Holmes is providing an initial series of trainings at local libraries, and has plans to move on to Island churches and other community organizations.

Some of the basic takeaways from the training will include what dementia is and what you should know about it; the difference between normal aging and dementia aging; the myths surrounding the disease; the difference between a healthy brain and how one with dementia might progress; how to have a conversation with someone with dementia — how to be with them in a productive, positive way. And the fact that as complex thinking skills dissipate, our emotions stay — love, happiness, sadness, joy, a sense of belonging. “Those are all things that stay with us right to the end, and all things we want in our lives,” says Holmes.

She will also share important key messages. Dementia is not a normal part of aging. Not everyone who gets old will get it. Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain, the most common being Alzheimer’s. It’s not just about having memory problems. It can affect your thinking, judgment, communication, and ability to do everyday tasks, Holmes explains. But it’s important to remember that it is possible to have a good quality of life with dementia. Symptoms can be mild for a long period of time. It’s a 20-year disease, and you can be on a plateau for much of it.

“All kinds of businesses and services should try to be dementia-friendly,” Holmes says. “This program can be delivered to any business or organization that is interested in hosting a one-hour session. I would use the Dementia Friends slideshow and bring information and promotional materials, as well as resources about the Alzheimer’s Association and information about what the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living provides, like the day program and Dementia Family Support Services. I would work on promotion from my end as well.”

Holmes is a big champion of the Alzheimer’s Association, which not only does work on eradicating the disease, but also has great resources for caretakers working with people who have dementia so they can live a good life. It also has a 24/7 help line at 800-272-3900 for caregivers who want support.

“All too often people with dementia experience loneliness and social exclusion. By coming together, we can make sure that people living with dementia are understood, included, and feel a part of their communities,” Holmes says. “There is more to the person than dementia. People are a valuable part of the community. And also, someone with dementia is an individual, they are living with this. It does not define them.”

Organizations, businesses, and the general public are invited to any of the current workshops:

  • Monday, Sept. 20, 11 am to 12 pm, Vineyard Haven library, on Zoom.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 14, 4:30 to 5:30 pm, West Tisbury library: Conference room (venue subject to change regarding COVID).
  • Saturday, Oct. 23, 2 to 3 pm, Edgartown library: Conference room (venue subject to change regarding COVID) and on Zoom.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 10, 5 to 6 pm, Chilmark library: Program room (venue subject to change regarding COVID).

For more information and/or to schedule a presentation, contact Mary Holmes at 508-939-9440, or email maryh@mvcenter4living.org.