Scene from I’m Still Here, from left, with Pearl Arden, Lou-Ann Edgar, Maureen Van Wyck and Madeleine Mills. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Play provides considerable insight into dementia

I’m Still Here cast presents all the possible scenarios that can arise

I’m Still Here should somehow be made mandatory viewing or reading.

The play is a research-based drama on living with dementia by Target Theatre of Victoria. Considering the alarming number of incidents of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias projected in the future, it brings a very timely message to educate the public about the many behaviours that can be expected.

Most people can’t begin to fathom the enormous multi-faceted aspects of dementia. That’s what makes this play so poignant because all those bases are covered and it clearly hits a home run in bringing a greater understanding.

Despite advance publicity, the turnout was sparse for the play at the Chemainus United Church Saturday afternoon for the performance I watched and that’s a shame. Everyone in this community, with a sizable seniors population, needs to know about the signs to make sure people get the help they need as early as possible following the onset of symptoms.

It could be someone in your own family, a neighbour who’s on their own or anyone else for that matter. No one is immune from this disease because there’s no known cause or cure. Being aware is the first step and that’s where this play does a yeoman’s service by providing a complete package of scenarios that could arise.

The play covered a lot of ground in one hour, followed by a question-and-answer period and discussion with the cast members. It didn’t require giving up a lot of personal weekend time to receive so much valuable information.

Since everyone in the community missed it other than about 30 dedicated citizens, the play requires some further explanation. It’s written by Vrenia Ivonoffski, with Gail Mitchell, Christine Jonas-Simpson and Renate Krakauer and based on research by Dr. Christine Jonas-Simpson of the Nursing Research Unit of Toronto’s Sunnybrook and Women’s Hospital and Dr. Gail Mitchell of York University.

You can certainly do your own research on these names and the subject to find out more or go to the Victoria Target Theatre Society website at www.targettheatre.ca for some background.

I’m Still Here was developed and written at ACT II Studio, at Ryerson University in Toronto. Research studies provide the play’s content and were focused on the experiences of people living with dementia and daughters whose mothers were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The play’s intent is to help others comprehend what people with dementia are going through, and as the play’s title I’m Still Here implies, most know what’s going on around them even if it doesn’t always seem like it, but are powerless to do anything about it. Misunderstanding and stigma are still widespread for persons and families living with dementia.

Target actors first performed the play in 2007. Since then, they’ve performed it more than 50 times.

This is very compelling stuff. Kudos to Maureen Van Wyck, Madeleine Mills, Phyllis McGee, Lou-Ann Edgar, Pearl Arden and Peter McNab for their actions, words and portrayal of situations. They were bang-on and brought many a tear to the eyes of audience members.

My wife and I have considerable experience on this issue from our families and so many people we know have been similarly affected.

One of the elements that struck a chord with us was the role of music in bringing a bright light to those affected by Alzheimer’s and that was highlighted in the play. It triggers memories and positive thoughts.

With that in mind, we created the Georgina Falt Memorial Mind Games Music Trivia fundraiser in memory of my mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s, a tournament where people on teams of eight identify song titles and artists to keep their memories sharp. All proceeds go to the Alzheimer Society of B.C. for valuable services, programs and research and we’ve raised just short of $43,000 since inception in 2013.

Many people are aware of our event and it’s being held on Sept. 21 this year in Duncan, but draws people from all over the Island and a few from the Lower Mainland to participate. We’re happy to put on such a well-received event for a wonderful group of supporters, with new people emerging all the time.

You can always check out our Facebook page under trivia4alzheimers in short form to see what’s happening and we’ve also been fortunate to receive amazing business sponsorship from near and far.

If you’re interested in reading more about I’m Still Here, scripts are availble from Act II Studio. It will be well worth the read. E-scripts are $20 and you can email Vrenia Ivonoffski at vivonoff@hotmail.com for more details.

(Don Bodger is the editor of the Chemainus Valley Courier. He can be reached at don.bodger@chemainusvalleycourier.ca.)

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