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Pauline Schneider: A Dementia Friendly Face

Pauline Schneider has been back in Canada for a little over a year, and has spent the bulk of that year becoming involved with The Dementia Society. She began volunteering in January, doing presentations at retirement homes and other locations to teach the staff about dementia. Now, she’s one of the people who will be taking the Dementia Friendly message out into the wider community.

It’s a great fit for Pauline – dementia is something she knows well. For the past 17 years, Pauline has been the executive director of Los Alamos Retired Senior Organization (LARSO) in New Mexico. Los Alamos Retired is a non-profit dedicated to helping seniors in the New Mexico community, and under Pauline’s direction they did just that.

LARSO runs two seniors centres that see about 200 visitors every day. They also supply transportation, deliver meals, and provide a number of other essential services for seniors. While there, Pauline says she was most proud of the expansion of their fitness programs, and most struck by the effectiveness of music for people living with dementia.

Pauline is trained as a music therapist, and for a long time played piano in hospice facilities. She remembers vividly a woman coming to sit next to her while she played, and saying “you play just like my mom used to play”. When Pauline was leaving, the woman said “I feel like I’ve spent the last hour with my mother”. This is a memory Pauline will always treasure.

Other people have wonderful memories of Pauline’s piano playing as well. In an article in the Los Alamos Daily Post about her departure from LARSO, library program assistant Katy Korkos is quoted as saying, “music had been a very important part of my late husband’s life…before we moved to New Mexico to open our restaurant, he had worked mainly as a professional musician, and cooking was his hobby and a second passion. As he lay dying, in the care of Los Alamos Visiting Nurses, he was comforted by Pauline’s playing.”

Currently Pauline is doing in-home support for people with mental health issues, and consulting with local groups to help create day programs for people living with dementia. She is also working with The Dementia Society as a Dementia Friendly ambassador. This is important to Pauline because it’s the best way to teach the community about dementia – and to ensure that people living with the condition are treated with respect, maintain their dignity, and are able to live well.

Having run similar programs in Los Alamos, Pauline is more than ready to take on Dementia Friendly. She is hoping that here in Ottawa, as she did in New Mexico, she can get banks, grocery stores, and other areas frequented by seniors to come on board and create safe spaces for people living with dementia. We’re meeting in the Beaverbrook library, where the staff has just undergone the one hour Dementia Friendly training program, and we’re all excited to see them put it into practice.

Pauline has a little experience with dementia in her own family. Her grandmother had Alzheimer’s Disease, and when she was in college she lived with a great aunt who had dementia. But the bulk of her experience comes from working for such a long time with seniors in New Mexico. Seniors who appreciated Pauline for her dedication and understanding. And because, while laying in bed in long term care, she came to see them and played music.


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