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Brighton guitarist and residents with scarves

Joyful Connections

Social interaction and imaginative exercises help ease those with memory loss through the transition from afternoon to evening.

Joyful Connections is a social drop-in club for residents with memory loss and their care partners. The program engages residents five times per week in a structured two-hour agenda that many say has changed their lives.

The program is strategically scheduled in the late afternoon, to help participants overcome the symptoms of a condition known as “sundowning.” For reasons not fully understood, people with dementia tend to become more confused and agitated as the sun begins to fade. Joyful Connections offers supportive, friendly engagement during this challenging time of day.

What makes this program so successful is our focus on imagination and creativity. Despite the progression of memory loss, people with dementia tend to retain a deep reservoir of imagination, and we tap into that with programs centered around art, music, and movement.

I used to watch a lot of TV programs and it made me feel more sad and my doctor told me that I need to watch TV less and talk to people more. This program gives me the opportunity to talk with people and do something really fun. Every time I come, I always feel happy.

- Esther, 2Life Communities resident

Each session begins with imaginative exercise. For example, the group might pretend to go fishing and the participants cast out and reel in what they have caught. The second part of the session focuses on healthy refreshments and self-help. The third and longest part of the program is a therapeutic activity, when the group is joined by a certified expressive arts therapist who engages the participants in dance movement, creative arts, or music. 

What makes Joyful Connections special, according to Program Manager Olena Bovdur, is that “people can talk with each other and do specific visualization exercises which are good for their brains and bodies. People seek a sense of purpose and belonging and this program makes them feel important and useful.”

It’s part of the Habilitation Therapy Model developed by Paul Raia, PhD. By the end of each two-hour session, the participants have exercised, made use of their cognitive and physical skills and abilities, and have had fun doing it.