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Intermissions: A stimulating, social haven for people with memory loss

Program features range of activities, support services

Created date

April 23rd, 2014
Brooksby’s arts and crafts room houses scrapbooks with creative writings by Intermissions participants.
Brooksby’s arts and crafts room houses scrapbooks

From its entrance within Canterbury Court neighborhood, the Intermissions space looks like any Brooksb"> apartment home. But inside, the focal point of the living room space is a circle of chairs, and the bedroom area is a tidy workspace centered on a long table for arts and crafts. 

The Intermissions program supports community members with memory loss and their caregivers by providing a social environment with daily activities for the mind and body. The program’s participants, who live with memory loss, can join up to five days a week, for four hours each day. 

“It’s a wonderful program,” says Joan Pappalardo, a retired nurse who lives at Brooksby and serves as the Resident Advisory Council’s liaison to Brooksby’s medical programs, including Intermissions. 

“It really enriches the lives of the residents with memory loss, and it gives caregivers (spouses, family members) time to themselves. They have all kinds of activities: memory-enhancing games, physical fitness, musical people who come in and play the guitar,” Joan adds.

Thriving, caring program

Intermissions began at Brooksby as a pilot program in 2003 led by Certified Nursing Assistant Pamela Fialho. Brooksby, in Peabody, Mass., was one of the first Erickson Living communities to launch the program, which is now available in many Erickson Living locations, including nearby Linden Ponds, in Hingham. 

“People are thriving here, and caregivers are very satisfied,” Fialho says of Brooksby’s Intermissions, part of the Home Support program.

Space in the program is limited to 11 participants, who have varying levels of memory loss or dementia but remain an integral part of Brooksby’s independent living community. “They feel at home here,” Fialho says.

Fialho and an aide coordinate with participants’ social workers, physicians, home support, and caregivers to ensure participants are getting the best possible care. 

“They’re so caring; you just get that feeling when you go in there,” Joan says of the Intermissions staff. 

Debbie Smigel, whose mother participates in the program, agrees. “Fialho is truly a great asset to Brooksby and does a terrific job with my mom and everyone at the club,” she says. 

The Intermissions program features on-site exercises, including tai chi and yoga; daily reminiscing and lunch with trivia; sing-a-longs; visits from speakers; pet therapy; and creative arts like painting, pottery, and story writing. This month, the group will begin potting flowers on the adjacent patio. Participants also take field trips, among them, visits to the Peabody Essex Museum and a local ice cream shop.  

Many of the program’s on-site activities are led by volunteers who also live at Brooksby, like Jerry Shulman. Jerry plays the guitar and sings for a variety of Brooksby activities. Since Intermissions began, Jerry has led “Jam’n w/Jerry,” a twice a month sing-a-long for which he provides songbooks for participants. 

“It’s a small group, and they enjoy me coming in,” Jerry says.

Additional community volunteers lead yoga exercises and crafts. Joan says the program thrives thanks to such dedicated volunteers and staff. 

Caregiver support

Just as the program provides an active and caring space for participants, it also supports caregivers, whether they are spouses, children, or other family members. 

“It frees up the caregiver tremendously, knowing that their loved one is in a safe and caring environment for four hours a day,” says Fialho. She also provides ongoing emotional support and tips for caregivers. 

For Fialho, the experience of being a founding force behind Intermissions was life-changing. 

“It’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me—the residents themselves and Brooksby as a whole are very supportive. I just get a lot out of what I do,” she says.