The Joy of Dementia (You’ve Got to be Kidding!)

You might say it’s strange to see the words joy and dementia in the same sentence. Mary Fridley and Susan Massad believe that’s part of a problem that needs solving. We’ve been thinking about dementia in very unhelpful ways. It’s unhelpful for people with dementia, their loved ones and caregivers, and even for those of us who prefer not to think about it at all.

The reason many of us would prefer not to think about it is that dementia is seen as one of the most horrible things that can happen to a person – a “loss of self” or “living death.” Susan and Mary are part of a coalition working to challenge that way of looking at dementia, known as “the tragedy narrative.”

They created a workshop called The Joy of Dementia Workshop (You’ve Got To Be Kidding!). Using improvisation and social therapeutics, they teach how we can re-frame what memories are and who we are as human beings, even if we can’t access them. One of the most important aspects of the workshops is that they are for everyone, not just people with dementia. They’re for loved ones, care givers, medical professionals, or anyone who wants to learn.

In September 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately killing older Americans, they launched Reimagining Dementia: A Creative Coalition for Justice. They already have around 450 members from 23 countries. You can read their call to action here.

Meet Susan Massad

Susan MassadSusan is a retired physician with 51 years of practice and teaching in internal medicine and a founding member of Reimagining Dementia: A Creative Coalition for Justice. In 2006, Susan launched a senior theater workshop, The New Timers, at NYC’s All Stars Project and is a faculty member of the Eastside Institute, where she leads conversations on health, wellness and growing older. She is co-author of a chapter on her work with “health teams” for an upcoming book published by the Taos Institute and is co-author of several articles on the Joy of Dementia, including one recently published in the Palgrave Encyclopedia on Critical Perspectives in Mental Health. Susan has also written a play, Remember? Remember!, that deals with aging and memory loss.

Meet Mary Fridley

Mary FridleyMary is pro-bono Director of Special Projects at the East Side Institute in NYC and coordinator of Reimaging Dementia: A Creative Coalition for Justice. An accomplished teacher and workshop leader, Mary practiced social therapy for 12 years and uses the social therapeutic approach as an Institute faculty member. She was featured in a February 2019 Washington Post article, “Changing ‘the tragedy narrative’: Why a growing camp is promoting a more joyful approach to Alzheimer” and, with Dr, Susan Massad, is co-author of several articles and chapters on the Joy of Dementia, including one for the Australian Journal of Dementia Care. Mary is also a guest blogger for, playwright and non-profit fundraising consultant.


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