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Gerda Saunders

Those visiting the Hood River Library in April may have noticed a book display featuring “Memory’s Last Breath” by Gerda Saunders, the beginnings of a community reading project that starts in earnest this month.

The project, which includes The Dalles, White Salmon and Cascade Locks, is meant to shed light on the area’s Dementia Friendly Community Initiative and Older Americans Month, and is presented by Aging in the Gorge Alliance.

Saunders, the book’s author, has dementia, and the book is about her experiences based on the “field notes” she keeps in her journal, said a press release.

“She writes about shopping trips cut short by unintentional shoplifting, car journeys derailed when she loses her bearings and the embarrassment of forgetting what she has just said to a room of colleagues,” said the release.

“All of us know someone, or have known, or will know someone with dementia — or develop it ourselves,” said Claire Culbertson, AGA member and Strong Women facilitator. “This is good for awareness.”

AGA has purchased 350 copies of the book, which are available to readers free of charge, distributed at local libraries. A series of discussion groups take place throughout May, but Culbertson expects there will be other, less formal discussions of the book that also take place via book clubs or women’s groups.

AGA asks that only those who intend to read and discuss the book pick up a copy — and, when finished, that it be returned to a library so others may read it as well.

Inside each book is a reading guide to help steer discussions, including questions to consider and facts about dementia. Partnering with AGA are Area Agency on Aging, the Hood River, The Dalles and White Salmon libraries, Providence Volunteers in Action, Hood River Valley Adult Center, Greater Oregon Behavioral Health and a host of volunteers.

“This book reading is intended to engage individuals in the community in a discussion around the topic of dementia, increase awareness about the Dementia Friendly in the Gorge Initiative, and help develop a network of support for persons with dementia, their care partners, and family,” said Britta Willson, Volunteers in Action program coordinator.

Group discussions are as follows — and those who need assistance locating a group may email Culbertson at claireculbertson@gmail.com, Willson said.

Hood River:

  • May 6 — History Museum of Hood River County, 4-6 p.m., facilitated by Culbertson
  • May 13 — Parkdale Community Church, 4910 Baseline Drive, 10:30 a.m., facilitated by Culbertson

The Dalles:

  • May 7 — Mid-Columbia Senior Center, 3 p.m., facilitated by Sally Forster
  • May 20 — The Dalles Library, 6 p.m., facilitated by Willson
  • May 22 — The Dalles Library (Alzheimer’s presentation), 6 p.m., facilitated by Willson

Discussion groups in White Salmon and Cascade Locks are yet to be determined, but will be announced at a later date.

The Hood River Valley Adult Center, as part of the Dementia Friendly in the Gorge Initiative and in honor of Older Americans Month, presents “Love in 4/4 Time” May 24-25 at 7 p.m., and May 26 at 2 p.m. Those whose lives have been impacted by dementia will receive a free ticket, available at the senior center. Otherwise, tickets are $10 at the door.

The play is written by Gary young and is about dementia and its impact on love and marriage, said Willson. The play is sponsored by the senior center, the Salvador Fund and Gorge Community Foundation.

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