Portland school project makes a difference for dementia patients

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PORTLAND — Students in the woodworking program at Portland Arts and Technology High School turned a team-building exercise into a community-service project.

The students crafted activity boards for residents of The Cedars retirement community.

The boards, which include locks and latches, hooks and hinges, lights, colorful beads, bells and more, “provide an opportunity to tinker safely” for residents with dementia or other cognitive deficits, Nick Viti, director of life enrichment at The Cedars, said.

The boards also “provide meaningful occupation that is sometimes (lacking) in a nursing-home setting,” Viti said. “I am very pleased with the activity boards the PATHS students created.”

Viti said he told the students about the purpose of the boards, gave them some background on dementia, and helped them research a few activity-board examples.

“Several students were already talking about their ideas before I left on that first visit and when I returned several weeks later, I was impressed at how much thought and creativity the students put into their activity boards,” Viti said.

The students had such a good time working on the boards, according to Jill Irving, the woodworking instructor at PATHS, that they’ve also agreed to make several for Campassus Hospice in Scarborough.

For Garrison Wickerd, a junior at Casco Bay High School, the project had a more personal aspect.

His grandfather had Alzheimer’s and Wickerd remembered feeling uncomfortable and useless. But now, he said, he has an opportunity to make a difference for someone else dealing with dementia.

“I was glad to do it, and it was interesting, too” he said of working with a couple other students to create a board for The Cedars. That board had “lots of doors, fabrics to rub and items to tinker with,” he said.

And, behind the doors, the students also included photographs of their own pets, which could be a trigger for someone with Alzheimer’s, or other forms of dementia, to remember a beloved dog of their own.

Semani Lytch, another woodworking student at PATHS, made two boards. One of them included the hugely popular spinner toy for kids that also lights up, as well as a doorknob and other moving parts.

“I’m glad to be helping people improve their brain function,” she said. Lytch also hopes that residents at The Cedars will have as much fun playing with the board as she did building it.

She’s a junior at Deering High School and hopes to be accepted into the carpentry program at Northern Arizona University.

“I always liked woodworking as a kid, so I thought why not learn,” Lytch said about why she signed up for the woodworking program at PATHS.

Zecharia Hoeflick, a senior from Windham High School, has also enjoyed working on the boards.

“This was a good group project that was a lot of fun,” he said.

As the only second-year woodworking student involved, Hoeflick also helped to oversee the construction of the boards and said it was interesting to learn what materials work best, particularly in terms of long-term durability.

It’s part of the culture at PATHS for students in the various programs to participate in community service projects, Irving said.

Along with making the activity boards, this fall her woodworking students also created free-standing looms for the child development class to use in their daycare.

Students have also written a grant proposal asking the Portland Education Foundation for funding to construct ukuleles that they would give away or maybe sell.

Viti was aware of PATHS and knew the school had a woodworking class that he hoped might be willing to create boards for residents at The Cedars.

“I thought making the boards might be a good chance to achieve something meaningful for both groups whereby PATHS students get an opportunity to make something useful for seniors, and the residents at The Cedars receive a new, unique form of engagement,” he said.

The boards are especially helpful for male residents, Viti said, because they “can be a particularly challenging group to reach.”

“The boards present an opportunity for active engagement with objects that are familiar and comfortable for them, (which is why they’re) perfect for many of our men,” he said.

“We have just started making (the boards) available to the residents and they are already a big hit.”

Having the boards available to use is “important in order to appropriately redirect residents with dementia or other cognitive diseases that may be wandering or rummaging, looking for something engaging or familiar,” Viti said. “I am very thankful to the students of PATHS for giving us a new engaging activity.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Students in the woodworking class at Portland Arts and Technology High School made activity boards for residents of The Cedars retirement community. Zecharia Hoeflick, left, Semani Lytch and Garrison Wickerd show off their creations.

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