Recently, Maude’s Awards Executive Director Marilyn Raichle sat down for an interview with Marigrace Becker, Director of the Memory Hub: A Place for Dementia-Friendly Community, Collaboration, and Impact. The Memory Hub opened in Seattle in the past year, and in this conversation they talk about how the Memory Hub came to be, how Marigrace sees dementia care and inclusion evolving, and even offer some advice to future Maude’s Awards applicants. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Marilyn: You’ve done an enormous number of things in this city. You’ve worked for the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center. You were the guiding spirit of Momentia. So tell me, how did you get connected with The Memory Hub and how did The Memory Hub come about?
Marigrace: The seed of The Memory Hub came about when I first started my position at the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center, which was about nine years ago. It was a new position to begin with, focused on community support and education for people with memory loss and their families. And I was sited at Harborview Medical Center, which is where our memory clinic is, working on running different support and education programs. From the very beginning, I had a dream of “one day I want to have a space, a physical space outside the hospital that’s non-clinical.” So I had it on my radar to hopefully one day find a warm and welcoming space for that support and education piece.
We were super delighted to come across the space that we’re now in, which is owned by the Frye Art Museum, one of our original and longtime partners in the work of promoting wellbeing of people with dementia in their families. And as soon as I walked into the building that we’re now in, I had that sense of, “this is it, here we are. This is the place, this is the space.” It’s just a few blocks from the hospital, but it’s outside the hospital. It’s very warm and welcoming and has plenty of room, not only for our own programs, but also to be able to invite partner organizations on board as well.
It was occupied and the lease was ending within a year or two. So we were aware that the space would become available. So I think at that point I showed it to some of my colleagues, including, of course, very importantly my boss, <laugh>, as well as another one of my colleagues that was really excited about having some physical space of our own to run our, our support and education programs. I think all of us together felt,”wow, this is and will be amazing, so let’s go for it.” That was five years ago.
From there it was a long process, partially because of the pandemic, but the pieces that had to come together included working with the Frye Museum, working with UW Real Estate and within our department of Neurology in the School of Medicine to get institutional support for the idea of starting something off site that’s not medical, but still part of UW Medicine. And we were so extremely grateful to have that leading gift from the Richard and Maude Ferry Foundation, which was a matching gift to be able to make this happen. And we were looking for the partner organizations that would want to join us on site. We wanted to have at least five partners that could come together being mission-aligned under one roof. So it took some time to identify who are the players that would “play well” together and want to be working in alignment to support people with dementia in their families. I’m telling you, this was a massive collective effort.
Marilyn: <laugh>. I know, it is! So what surprised you about the opening of The Memory Hub? Did anything surprise you when you finally got to open it?
Marigrace: I think the whole thing has been a surprise. It’s been like a discovery because you don’t know how anything’s going to play out. And there was a pandemic and then there was the thought of, oh my gosh, now older adults are meant to stay home and not congregate. And, meanwhile, we’re trying to create this space where older adults are coming together. And now people want to work from home, but we’re trying to create a space where there’s five organizations working on site together. So I think there were a lot of what-ifs and surprises.
For me, I think it’s been a delightful discovery to find that yearning for community and belonging is still in us, despite that period of mandating stay-home, or even because of that long period of needing to be isolated. It’s been beautiful to see that reweaving of the community through having this physical space. And then I think I was just crossing my fingers that our partners would still want to work on site together, <laugh> without needing to twist any arms.
Marilyn: Let me ask you, who are your partners? Who are the people who are involved?
Marigrace: So there’s the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center – we operate the space. Our founding partner is the Frye Art Museum. They are our delightful landlords, but they also offer creative arts programming for people with dementia and families. The Alzheimer’s Association is a partner. They have a fantastic care consultant who’s onsite two days a week, who offers free 30 minute consultations for resources and referrals to help people live better with memory loss. The Elderwise Adult Day Program is here. And Full Life Care is also here. They do many things in the community, but at The Memory Hub, they focus on caregiver education and support. We love them all!
Marilyn: What is the impact that The Memory Hub has when you compare it to all the programs that are in Seattle that work with memory loss? What distinguishes The Memory Hub?
Marigrace: I think there’s several things that distinguish The Memory Hub, and not to say it distinguishes like, “oh, we’re better than these other programs,” because thank goodness those programs are all throughout the community!
Some of the things that distinguish it would be that I always had this hope once we started this space that would be outside the hospital, that people receiving a new diagnosis of memory loss or dementia at the memory clinic at Harborview would be able to immediately access kind of a next step or a pathway of resource and support. And so I think one thing that sets it apart is its physical proximity to our region’s specialty memory clinic, meaning the memory clinic at Harborview; it serves people from all over the Northwest.
So as a person with memory loss or dementia, to see your medical provider, maybe get your diagnosis for the first time, feel, “oh my gosh, what does this mean for me? Where do I turn? What do I do next?” And to be able to be told, “actually, a great next step is to walk two blocks around the corner and check out The Memory Hub. There’s a variety of different resources there for you in terms of learning more, getting support, connecting with others that are on this journey and staying engaged.” I think that’s super unique and distinguishes us.
I love that the day that we became open to the public, we were able to experience that: somebody from the clinic having had their first appointment, walking over, and then accessing resources right away. So that’s the dream!
And then the fact that as a person with memory loss or dementia or a family member, you can access five different nonprofits that serve people with memory loss under one roof. Just by walking through one doorway, there are five different organizations that are there for you. Along with that, I think the added ability to collaborate or align on mission in what we’re trying to accomplish between the different organizations is unique and facilitated by the fact that we work right down the hall from each other.
Marilyn: So if somebody is, has a diagnosis and they want to come to The Memory Hub, do they have to wait? Do they have to make appointments? Is it easy for them to access all these things? Because you know, you could be inundated with people who are dealing with diagnoses and, which I know is part of your dream—but do you find that you have the ability to accommodate?
Marigrace: I would like to be inundated! That’s a great question. People can access The Memory Hub in a variety of ways. One of the easiest low-barrier ways is that we are open to the public for drop-in visits on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from nine to three. So during that time, people can literally just walk off the sidewalk, meet the front desk staff, and hear a little bit more about what’s happening at The Memory Hub. They can visit our library and resource room, take home various materials, and head out into Maude’s Garden, which is the public garden, named after Maude Ferry. They can meet on Tuesday or Thursday with the Alzheimer’s Association care consultant, which at this point often have drop-in availability. They’re not all booked out.
And they can also enjoy our art gallery, which features art made by people with dementia. Currently, it’s a lot of pieces made by the Elderwise Adult Day Program participants.
Outside of that, I think the easiest way for people to get a sense for what is available is to look on the website, which is TheMemoryHub.org. And you can read about the different partner organizations. You can read about the programs that are here for people with memory loss or for family members, or the wider public or professionals. And you can also see on the calendar when the different programs are happening and register for them.
So there are different ways to access. We are extremely grateful that we have very kind neighbors around the corner, Murano Senior Living, which offers limited free valet parking to our visitors. So if people are thinking, “I am never going to downtown Seattle, how will I ever park?”– there is free valet parking thanks to Murano Senior Living! You just pull up, drop your car off, walk over to The Memory Hub, and we validate your parking at the front desk.
Marilyn: I love that you just mentioned that there is this comforting place in Maude’s Garden so that, as you start to digest all of this, you can be in the garden, which is exceedingly restful and warm. And that is, I think, a wonderful thing.
Marigrace: Right. It’s really rare in the middle of the city to have access to that kind of green space. And Maude’s Garden is Washington State’s first public memory garden. In order to design it, we took a look at the Portland Memory Garden and also did some consulting focus groups with community members with memory loss and family members, and professionals who might be affiliated with The Memory Hub. Horticultural therapist Peach Jack drew up the first initial design for the garden, and the effort is led by my colleague Genevieve Wanucha.
The idea behind a memory garden is to create a space that is specially designed for people with memory loss and their families. And it uses universal design principles. It’s meant to be universally accessible, but it also has other elements such as an intuitive pathway, where it’s not a maze of pathways where you have to figure out “where am I?” All the plants are non-toxic and it’s meant to be experienced – you’re meant to touch the plants; you can put anything you want in your mouth. There’s an herb garden with lots of different things to smell. And the plantings are meant to be visually engaging every season of the year.
It also has this very beautiful, natural hedge enclosure all the way around the garden. So you can feel safe and at ease in there without having an actual fence or feeling like you’re in a cage or something. It’s actually like, ooh, I’m being hugged by nature, versus being enclosed.
Marilyn: So because we talked about how other organizations and care partners can access this…do you think that this has national implications? National potential for expansion or replication?
Marigrace: National implications? Oh, I do like the sound of that! Yes, I do think so. I think that right now my focus with The Memory Hub is statewide. We do things very well here in our region as a model for other regions. And then we also are working to help equip other parts of the state to become dementia friendly and to start various types of programs of their own. And I think absolutely there’s national potential in terms of other states taking a look at, “oh, how is it working in Washington? Could we do something like this? Yeah!”
Marilyn: Have you been getting any interest from other parts of the country or other parts of the state?
Marigrace: Definitely other parts of the state. I say this is like the United States’ best kept secret because I don’t think people know about The Memory Hub yet around the nation since it is so new, and we haven’t done nationwide promotion yet.
Marilyn: So what’s coming up for The Memory Hub? You’ve just finally opened up for the public, but now what?
Marigrace: I think for my vision of The Memory Hub, broadly speaking, what is coming up is that it moves from being in its nascent stages of figuring out what does it look like to be together in a physical space after the pandemic or during the pandemic, to then be offering programs. We’re in that stage of still trying things out, and only a month into being open to the public for drop-in. So we’re getting a sense of, how does this work? How do people access it? What’s working well? How do we work together on site in person safely during the pandemic?
But ultimately The Memory Hub is going to be very vibrant and full of the sounds and sights and energy of conviviality and community all day, every day. There’s going to be programs happening in every space in The Memory Hub all day long. And we’re not there yet. Right now we’re like, oh, it’s great when there’s a program, like one program happening at a time throughout the day. It feels exciting. But ultimately, it’s going to be this sense of overflow and abundance and energy and excitement and comings and goings and exchange. That’s what I see as we move forward.
Marilyn: Are there going to be animals?
Marigrace: Oh yes! Even though we’re in our infancy, we already have animals. We have a beautiful therapy dog that just started coming into the Elderwise program. And we have hummingbird feeders in the garden, which the Elderwise participants tend to.
Marilyn: You know, animals, kids and animals, they just lift the spirits. Mm-hmm. So in this very brief time since you’ve been open, what’s the feedback been like? Or is it too soon?
Marigrace: Oh no, I don’t think it’s too soon. I think people are so excited to discover it. Certain programs are more well-established at this point and are quite popular. Like the Elderwise program, for example, has been up now and running for almost a year in this space. They started in February last year. And of course that program gets rave views. People love it. They love, love, love being able to be together and paint and enjoy the garden. I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from people meeting with the Alzheimer’s Association care consultant and being able to get that free appointment and support and referrals. And people are loving the Frye Art Museum’s Alzheimer’s Cafe that meets here once a month for social connection and art discussion and time in the garden as well. People also love the Garden Discovery Program that we do with the Seattle Parks Department once a month where people are working with a horticultural therapist and engaging with nature and making nature-based crafts.
And today we just wrapped up the ADAPT program, which is our brain and body wellness program. Kind of like a boot camp for the brain. It’s a two week-long, intensive type of thing. And a participant said, “I came in here, I didn’t wanna come, I hadn’t even told anybody else in my family yet about my diagnosis. And now I’m going to come and meet with these strangers? But I’m so glad I did.”
And another person said, “when I came in I was angry, but as I leave, I’m happy.” Anyway, it’s those kinds of quotes that you can’t wait for. It’s very heartfelt. And the change that happens for people as they meet others who are going through similar things and find that they’re not alone is very impactful.
Marilyn: I want to ask you more about the Alzheimer’s Association who are there two days a week. What exactly are they doing?
Marigrace: So it’s one of their care consultants who is on-site. They function like a social worker and they have free 30 minute appointments with people with memory loss or family members just to talk through anything in terms of resources or support that the person might be looking for. And then they help gather information and give it to the person or help refer the person into whatever types of programs, services, professional support they might be looking for.
Marilyn: And that’s so nice because instead of asking people to contact people online or by phone, they actually have a face. They’re there with them, which would make a huge difference. So for people who are outside Seattle, is there a way to contact to work with The Memory Hub?
Marigrace: Yeah, for better or worse now, we’re very used to doing things online and a number of the programs here will likely continue having an online component to them. So I would encourage people to take a look at the Memory Hub calendar and look for those things that are offered by Zoom or online. For example, we have groups online for caregivers and for people with memory loss. And a few weeks ago we did an all day event for people with younger onset Alzheimer’s and their families. That was partially in person here at The Memory Hub, but people also joined via Zoom from all different parts of the state.
Marilyn: It just started, you know, in your brain, five years ago and now look at it!
Marigrace: <laugh> With so, so much support – it was an incredible team effort.
Marilyn: So you work in this field, what would you most like to see change in the field of dementia innovation? What kind of innovations would you like to see that are not around yet?
Marigrace: Well, I’m a social worker by training, and a community-organizing focused social worker. So what I mainly would like to see is a continued shift in the way we perceive older adults in general, but especially people with dementia. I want more awareness and reduction in stigma toward people with dementia to where everyone can see people with dementia as people first, as people worth knowing and worth connecting with. And that there could be that strengthening in our communities by virtue of having people with dementia connected within the community versus ostracized or set aside. We all gain by having people with dementia in our lives. I would most want to see that shift, which is already happening, but a continued shift until it’s complete where people with dementia are valued, respected, engaged members of the community, rather than seen as a little less-than.
Marilyn: Tell me about your work with Maude’s Ventures, because you actually had some really interesting conversations with people who are working in those areas. I mean, what would you like to see in your grand vision? If you could say, “I would love to see this program happen or this approach happen.”
Marigrace: I absolutely am over-the-moon excited and happy that Maude’s Awards and Maude’s Ventures exist. I feel like both of those are very key ways to catalyze innovation and recognize good work and then spread the word about what it is. I like that Maude’s Awards gives gifts toward people that are doing good work without them having to go through the long process of filling out a grant application. And then you do that heavy lifting of publicizing it all. That’s a super benefit to the wider community as well. Helping people on the ground get a sense for what these innovations are.
And then Maude’s Ventures, I feel like is really exciting in terms of being able to offer that initial funding, but also kind of coaching toward people that are on the ground level trying to really improve the lives of people with dementia and their families, but through a business model.
So I think both are really important and in terms of what I’ve seen coming out of either of those efforts that has excited me, I always love examples of organizations or places in the community where it’s not their bread and butter mission to serve people with dementia, but they are carving out that space to do so from their own vantage point.
So for example, Seattle Parks and Recreation got a Maude’s Award in 2020. They’re not senior services per se, they’re a parks and recreation department, but the fact that they made that commitment to say “we’re meant to serve the public, people with dementia are part of the public, what can we do to be part of this wider movement of making sure people with dementia are connected and engaged in their communities?” And so the fact that they have an actual dementia friendly recreation division, I think is amazing. An incredible model for other parks and recreation departments. Same with any other kind of entity like that, like libraries, museums, etc.
Marilyn: So how often do you do cooperative programs with the Frye Art Museum? Because they’re upstairs.
Marigrace: The primary co-offering that we’re doing right now is the Alzheimer’s Cafe, which happens here in our space. They come across and we show one art piece from the Frye Gallery on our huge TV screen, and then we engage with the art with one of the Frye docents, looking into it and thinking about, “what does this make us think of, what do we notice within the piece?” And then there’s also a delightful sing-along and often time in the garden when it’s decent weather.
Marilyn: I did want to ask as we approach application season for Maude’s Awards, and as a you’re a member of the Maude’s Awards advisory board, is there anything you would say to our applicants, or to people or organizations who might be hesitant to apply and might think that it’s not for them? What would you say to these people?
Marigrace: Well, I would say a couple of things. It’s as easy as it sounds to apply! Basically every other grant you’re ever going to apply for is going to be harder than this one. And I want to emphasize to the people that these are not grants, but these are awards for things you’ve already done. It’s not coming with strings attached where from here on out, you’re going to have to be writing this drudgery of grant reports for every quarter for the next two years. No, it’s as easy as it sounds! Fill out the application for a chance at receiving the award.
I think a lot of times family caregivers or individuals, especially family caregivers, don’t realize that this is for them as well. And so I know we’re all trying to get that word out, but especially to family caregivers, letting them know you really are the experts on what works well for you or your loved one in terms of supporting quality of life. So don’t be daunted. It’s also a pretty easy application for individuals. Literally any small thing that you do, like recognizing, “oh, giving my mom a hand massage seems to calm her.” I mean, you could apply with any very small innovation. It doesn’t have to be, “I created a rocket ship that went to the moon with my mom.” It doesn’t have to be like that!
Marilyn: Future applicants can also look at the handbooks of all the previous award winners and applicants, just to get a flavor of what people have been applying for. Well, this was wonderful. Thank you so much, Marigrace.
Featured in this interview
Bringing together people, programs and partners, The Memory Hub operates as a vibrant dementia-specific community center, collaborative workspace and training center. Spearheaded by the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center, and located on the campus of founding partner the Frye Art Museum, The Memory Hub welcomes visitors year-round to explore what it means to live well with dementia. Learn more at TheMemoryHub.org.
Maude’s Ventures makes two seed investments of $50,000 each year: one for general dementia care innovation and one focused on late-stage dementia. Learn more at MaudesVentures.org.
Maude’s Awards gives three annual $25,000 awards to organizations and up to five $5,000 awards to individuals excelling in one of four categories of care for persons living with dementia and care partners. Learn more about the awards at MaudesAwards.org.