For 30 years now, the Friendship Center has been providing elderly people with a place to go during the day for activities, entertainment, care, and supervision in a compassionate, social environment. Now, it is branching out with a new program called Connections, for people with early memory loss.

The program will be the first of its kind in our area. Dr. Eryn Eckert conceived of the idea after attending a conference in the Bay area last November, where she heard of a similar program operating in Northern California. Eckert realized a program geared towards stalling and dealing with memory loss is lacking in Santa Barbara, and would be a “helpful and valuable addition to resources available to people with mild memory loss.” “Especially,” she added, “since effects from Alzheimer medications are modest at best.”

The Connections program, scheduled to debut in January 2010, will be available to those who have been diagnosed with early stages of dementia and no longer driving, but are capable and willing to help themselves. Funded by the Brookdale Foundation, Connections will consist of Monday morning meetings, from 10 a.m. till 2 p.m.

Susan Jorgenson, currently an Adult Education instructor, who has been further trained by Brookdale to facilitate the program, will introduce memory-enhancing tricks and explain why exercising the brain is beneficial to memory retention. Connections attendees can participate in support group discussions, practice yoga, have lunch, enjoy music, and exercise in a supportive atmosphere.

Likely, most of us can take steps to improve our memories. There are video and board games tailored to this purpose, but one of the greater advantages to Connections is having a supportive peer-group. “Brain fitness in a social setting, where people know they aren’t dealing with dementia alone, beats playing Sudoku unaccompanied at home,” Jorgenson explained-certainly during such an uncertain, trying time.

Connections will take place in a church across the street from the Friendship Center, which is at 89 Eucalyptus Lane. For more information, contact Eryn Eckert at (805) 969-0859 or


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