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Play encourages dialogue around Alzheimer’s and dementia

High school students will help elementary students understand Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias when they present the play “What My Grandma Means To Say” at local schools today and Thursday.
Playwright JC Sulzenko tells of Jake’s experience as he watches his grandma change from world traveller, expert birder and best cookie baker, to someone who forgets where she lives and cannot remember his name.
Based on her book, the play gently follows the story of how Jake learns that Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias affect not only the people living with it, but also everyone in the family, including the children, who can be drawn into the role of caregivers.
In the book, once Grandma moves to a long-term care residence, Jake becomes her regular Saturday visitor. He develops a routine and knows what to expect when he is with her, until an extraordinary conversation makes him think she is cured.

What My Grandma Means To Say (The Blue Shawl) is being presented in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Society of Prince Edward County. The play is aimed at students, primarily in Grades 4-6, and is meant to start a dialogue around issues of the illness, includes young people in what is going on, and allows them to examine these issues that might affect them from a safe distance.

The cast includes Ben See as Jake, Alison Stenhouse as Grandma, Olivia Calver as the Nurse, and Sydnee Mulridge as Mother.

For more information about Alzheimers, the play or the storybook version or the performance contact Linda Jackson at the Alzheimer’s Society, or teacher Matthew Sheahan at PECI.

‘What my grandma means to say’ premiered at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in October 2009 and is being integrated into the youth education programs of the Alzheimer Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County.
“When JC Sulzenko brought ASPEC (Alzheimer’s Society of Prince Edward County) her play and the new storybook adapted from it, I saw right away how innovative her approach would be in starting a discussion among children about how Alzheimer’s affects a family,” said Linda Jackson, ASPEC executive director. “When she suggested older students could perform the play for younger ones, which would involve both age groups in the process, I knew we had to try it here,” added Jackson.”
Approximately 530 people in Prince Edward County are living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia.
While the Alzheimer Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County already offers the play in its school programs, ASPEC is the first Alzheimer Society in Canada to partner with a high school to take the play into elementary schools with a student cast.
“ASPEC is very pleased to collaborate with PECI and Matthew Sheahan, department head for the arts, in this worthwhile project which allows children to explore how they feel about dementia and to develop their strategies when faced with  the reality of such an illness in their own lives. Matt has been amazing in readying the show for the road. He directed the production and created all the sound effects and props, as well.”
ASPEC will donate a copy of the storybook “What My Grandma Means to Say” along with a copy of the discussion guide for teachers, to each school visited by the travelling show, and will also make the book is available at all County library branches.
Performances for the students will take place at the following schools: Wednesday, October 5 – Queen Elizabeth @ 8:45 am; CML Snider @ 11:45 am; Pinecrest @ 1:30 pm.  Thursday, October 6 – St. Gregory’s @ 8:45 am; Sophiasburgh @ 10:30 am; Athol @ 12:45 pm.  No performances for the public are scheduled at this time.

– Sydnee Gael Mulridge

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  1. JC Sulzenko says:

    I am very thrilled to have students from PECI take “What My Grandma Means to Say” into County elementary schools next week. My thanks to the actors, to Matt Sheahan, Director and teacher, and to Linda Jackson of the Prince Edward County Alzheimer Society for making my dream of having older students perform for 8-12 year-olds a reality.
    FYI: The play focuses on one incident in the relationship between eleven year-old Jake and his Grandma. The storybook by the same title embraces that experience but goes beyond it by showing what happened in the life of Jake’s family before and after the moment in the garden which is at the heart of the one-act, ten-minute play. The storybook, launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in May, 2011, and published by General Store Publishing House ( contains FAQs and key websites for further information.

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