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Movies to become memory exercise for seniors with dementia

| Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Denis Theatre Foundation and a Massachusetts-based nonprofit will begin a film discussion program for senior citizens with dementia later this month while raising money to renovate the closed Mt. Lebanon movie house.

Artists for Alzheimer's is working with the Denis on “Meet Me at the Movies and Make Memories.” The first session will be Sept. 25 at the Mt. Lebanon Library.

About a dozen seniors from Asbury Heights, The Baptist Homes Society and Concordia Lutheran Services facilities will watch short movie clips with “iconic” actors and themes, so even if they don't know the whole movie or its context, the clips still can serve as a starting point for discussions and reminiscing, said Sean Caulfield, co-founder of Boston-based Artists for Alzheimer's.

For example, clips such as the chocolate factory scene from “I Love Lucy” could provide the starting point for a discussion of work, dream jobs or physical comedy, where participants would be asked for their opinions in addition to their memories, Caulfield said.

“The important aspect is that it's not passive,” he said. “Just the recognition that ‘your opinion matters, you're in this discussion,' has an instant effect. It puts people at ease.”

The Denis Theatre Foundation, which is raising money to revamp the four-screen movie house in the Washington Road business district into a community arts center, is starting the program at the library with plans to eventually move it into the theater.

The goal will be to make it a quarterly event at the library, at least until the Denis is ready, said M.J. Meenen, a member of the Denis Board of Directors.

“We're excited that the Denis can deliver a project of this caliber to the community,” she said. “It's in perfect alignment with our mission to enrich the community with art.”

Peg Chabala, a dementia education specialist at Asbury Heights, said she hopes the movie program will be similar to group outings her residents take to local museums, shows or bowling alleys.

“Just to go out and feel like you're like everyone else ... you feel like you're part of the world again,” Chabala said. “There is life after this disease.”

The first meeting of the program is being funded with a $2,000 grant from the Fine Foundation and the Jack Buncher Foundation; the Denis will seek another $4,000 to make it happen at least three more times over the next 12 months, Meenen said.

The difficulty of moving the seniors from their homes to the library means the first program will be limited to the participants, Caulfield and about six volunteers from the Denis. But Caulfield hopes future meetings include family members and volunteers of all ages to enhance the experience.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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