Alumnus Facilitates Performance to Support People with Dementia

Author: 
Deborah Belonick

Six people in a support group for people with dementia recently gave a poignant performance at Quinnipiac University’s Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Services, in Connecticut. Taking the stage before an audience of about 100 students majoring in health care, they shared their stories of living with dementia: what it was like to lose their memory; what it was like to undergo testing and to receive a painful diagnosis; and how they are carrying on day-to-day.

Daniel Belonick, LCSW (Master of Divinity, Class of 2008)Daniel Belonick, LCSW (Master of Divinity, Class of 2008)Our alumnus, Daniel Belonick, director of counseling services for LiveWell (formerly the Alzheimer’s Resource Center) in Plantsville, Connecticut, played an integral part in their performance. Under his facilitation, the six people—all part of a group that he supports—wrote a 38-page script describing their experience of living with dementia and how they wish to remain connected and engaged with their communities. Their first show was at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut last August, followed by the Quinnipiac performance in November.

The New Haven Register published an article about the Quinnipiac performance, describing some of the heartrending, yet heartwarming, personal monologues:

Bob Savage sat alongside his five friends in a support group for people with dementia and, reading from a script, told the audience: “My memory isn’t so good. I’ve become self-conscious about it. I wonder if people understand what’s been happening to me.”

He added, “If I could just get across to them—my family, my friends, the people I live with, the people who try to help me—if I could just let them know what it’s like to be me these days.”

“I trained to facilitate the group under Maureen Matthews, who originally conceived it and who has worked with people living with dementia for more than 30 years,” said Belonick, “The show, with different performers and personalized scripts, is always titled, ‘To Whom I May Concern’—the ‘I’ not being a typo!—and the powerful words of the people in this group are making a difference in addressing audience perceptions about what it’s like to live with dementia.”

Belonick can say that with confidence, because before each performance, the audience is asked to write down five other words that come to their minds when they hear the word “dementia.” Audience members typically have written down words like, “elderly,” “incurable,” “darkness,” “void,” and “fear.”

Then, after each performance, the same request is made, but this time audience members have written down words like, “courage,” “hope,” “thinking,” “love,” and “together.” This provides the platform for the “talk back,” where group members and the audience dialogue.

“As a seminary graduate, I haven’t taken the usual path to ordination and priestly service,” Belonick noted. “But my seminary training, through class, community, and worship, has magnified my training as a professional counselor in this field; it is a ministry of a different kind.

“Seminary prepared me to be fully present in the midst of questions to which there are no easy answers, pain that is felt deeply, and circumstances that offer seemingly overwhelming challenges, and yet to remain ever hopeful in God’s mercy, love, and desire for us to be fully present with Him, and He with us,” Belonick concluded.


 

Read the feature story in The New Haven Register here.
Daniel Belonick is a member of the Parish Council at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, New Britain, CT.