Movies for all: How one dementia-friendly screening brought people together
On a sunny Wednesday morning, a group of seniors — along with their family, friends, and caregivers — trickled in through a side door of Emagine Theater in Canton. Before showtime, groups of older people chatted away, nibbling on cookies and snacks. The room was abuzz with conversation.
They were there for a special screening of the film adaptation of the musical Mamma Mia! , planned especially for people with dementia.
David Wilbert attended the screening with his mom, Marilyn, who suffers from dementia. He said it was a good opportunity to get out in public without the stress than can accompany such an outing.
"A lot of times she's, you know, kind of stuck at home and not a lot of things to do," Wilbert said.
David asked his mom what she thought she'd enjoy about the movie.
"I don't know," she said.
Cyndi Wilbert, David's sister-in-law, reminded Marilyn she loves music.
"Oh, is it full of music?" Marilyn said. "Oh, good. Okay. Yeah, that's it, then."
Renee Ralsky is the marketing manager for Waltonwood Senior Living Facility, which partnered with Emagine Theaters to put on the event. She said her hope was to create a sense of community. She wanted to provide families and their loved ones suffering from memory loss a way to spend time together. She worked with the theater to create a space and setting that meets patient's medical and emotional needs.
Planning this event was very intentional.
The theater had patrons come in through a door at the back, so they wouldn't have to navigate the theater complex. They used the theater closest to the bathrooms, and set up ramps over the steps down to the front rows.
The movie selection, too, was intentional. "Because music is healing and it is one of the things that individuals with memory loss, they can recall music from their past," Ralsky said.
"Music is healing and it is one of the things that individuals with memory loss, they can recall music from their past"Renee Ralsky, Marketing Manager at Waltonwood Senior Living Facility
The movies are also all less than 2 hours long. The theater doesn't show any previews. The lights are left at a dim level, the volume is lower than for a traditional movie screening.
Ralsky said Waltonwood covered all costs for this event, so families could attend for free. At a table just outside the door, sodas and popcorns were set out for the taking.
There were also six staff members from Waltonwood helping folks into their seats, making sure they were comfortable.
At a little after 2 o'clock, Ralsky took the mic, thanked everyone for coming, and kicked things off with a Mamma Mia! sing-a-long.
Then for 90 minutes, people had a great time at the movies – they tapped their toes and sang along.
Ida Szott is 93 and was still dancing after the end credits rolled. "We had a good time," she said. "Danced at our seats. Good movie, Good popcorn. With good friends."
Linda Adair, who attended in a wheelchair with her companion Esperanca De Abreu, said she was determined not to enjoy the movie at first, thinking it would be too risqué for her liking. "But it turned out, it was a very nice movie, a loving movie and I really liked it very much," she said. "It's hard for me to get around, so I don't go as much as I used to, but I used to do a lot."
To find out more about dementia-friendly movie screenings at Emagine's Canton and Saline locations, click here.