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New program aims to help seniors stay sharp

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

Lost car keys and forgotten phone numbers are commonplace in almost everyone’s life. But for some people — especially seniors — habitual forgetfulness can be a sign of something much more serious.

It can be tough to distinguish between the two, however, and the line between everyday lost thoughts and warning signs can be difficult to draw.

It’s that confusion and frustration that’s led one Bremerton-based senior service to create a new program geared solely toward helping seniors stay head-healthy.

The Memory Connection is the latest service to be offered by Lutheran Community Services and will start up sometime later this month.

“We’re really looking forward to being available to the Kitsap area,” Program Coordinator Carol Harcharik said.

The program will be operated out of Silverdale Lutheran Church and is focused on making mental exercises a regular part of seniors’ everyday lives.

“We’re going to be doing a lot of activities that are pointed at memory loss,” Harcharik said. “It’s like physical exercise — if you don’t do it, you get out of shape.”

The program isn’t unique to Lutheran Services or to the area — it originated in California in about 2002 — but Harcharik is convinced of its ability to help people with memory loss concerns.

Along with being a nationally certified counselor and a licensed mental health counselor, Harcharik received formal training in the program from the Brookdale Foundation, the organization that granted Lutheran Services the money to start the program in the first place.

There are several different forms of memory loss and The Memory Connection isn’t designed as a treatment program by any stretch. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is untreatable.

But for people who experience memory loss associated with aging, stress and atrophy, Harcharik said, the program could be a big help.

“Anything that upsets the balance of your system can affect (memory),” she said. “The important thing is that they get early diagnoses.”

Harcharik presented the program as one that seeks to “balance” out five aspects of a person’s life: mental, physical, spiritual, social and nutritional. The program will focus on those five areas through various activities that could include everything from participating in memory games to creating art projects.

“There isn’t going to be any pressure that you have to perform (however),” Harcharik said. “This will be a safe place to be and talk about issues.”

Many people tend to become withdrawn once they experience memory loss and it can exacerbate the issue, she said, which is why socialization is important.

Lutheran Services also will try to make the program available to as many people as possible by featuring a sliding fee scale, based on a person’s income.

“We don’t want to turn people away because they say, ‘Well, I can’t afford that,’” Harcharik said.

Most people will just be charged a standard $38 fee per session.

She also stressed that despite the location of the program and Lutheran Services’ obvious religious connections, the program will stick to exploring only “spiritual development — whatever that means to a person.”

• People can apply to The Memory Connection by writing to Lutheran Community Services at 830 Pacific Ave., Suite 101, Bremerton, WA 98383, or by calling (360) 377-5511 or toll-free at (800) 378-5771.

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