Comforting Altzheimer’s disease with… violets and hyacinths

Comforting Altzheimer’s disease with... violets and hyacinths

Two actors “perform” at elderly nursing homes, where, by awakening the senses, they manage to obtain stories which the participants retract from the depths of their minds.


Photographs by SPYROS BAKALIS

It is just nine thirty in the morning and outside an elderly nursing home in Attica, singing, happy voices and applause can be heard. All this is taking place in a room much alike a school classroom. More than 20 people, most of which living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, are sitting in a big dining room. This is not an extraordinary event on the occasion of the fact that September has been named the “International month of Alzheimer’s Disease”; in fact, it is a weekly comforting program which has been taking place for four months at the “Good Samaritan” nursing home in Pefki.


The persons behind this innovative idea are two actors, Notis Paraskevopoulos and Konstantina Maltezou. The couple, both at work and in life, founded the “seveneleven” theatre company with these objectives in 2013. As they explain to “Ethnos”, when they graduated from the drama school they decided to channel all their talent into offering to this sensitive social group through their art. And as is usually the case… things were tough at the beginning. “We started experimentally six years ago. I must confess that our first ‘sessions’ were total failures. We had watched a British model and putting the techniques we were taught in practice did not yield the expected results from the Greek elderly. The two people have different cultures, experiences, and memories. Thankfully, we realised that soon and changed the way we operated, working on a holistic approach. We wanted and achieved the active participation of the elderly”, says N. Paraskevopoulos. Indeed, during the two hours the activity lasted, it was the elderly who gave the rhythm and guided the two actors to the next step of their entertainment. “It is important that we do not simply perform and sing for them, but to all become a company, and that the elderly living together come closer, get to know each other and exercise their mind”, he comments.


Actors Notis Paraskevopoulos and Konstantina Maltezou decided to channel all their talent into offering to this sensitive social group through their art.


During the program, even the elderly with dementia, who have not spoken for a while, are smiling. Others, who are very shy, reveal details of their life which, under other circumstances, they would never trust anyone with. During a conversation about summers, a lady confessed “I have practised nudism. It was a very long time ago. And I enjoyed it”; and an old man laughed and said that between a bikini and a one-piece, he prefers women wearing no swimsuit at all. That was the third time his voice was heard in the room during “class”. How do they do it? Anemones, basils, carnations, daphne, eucalyptus, hyacinth, sunflower, thyme and a whole bunch of plant names are nothing but words to some people. There is one simple rule: say a plant that comes to your mind starting from the alphabet letter on the table. Every parent has used the game to enrich their children’s knowledge in an entertaining way; but N. Paraskevopoulos and K. Maltezou use it to draw stories the elderly retract from the depths of their minds. Some of them were not only forgotten but even maybe lost forever.


She remembered her wedding dress

“We have witnessed several occurrences. For example, a lady recognized her wedding dress in a fabric we gave her. This occurred through the method of memory retraction using the senses of touch and eyesight. This specific old lady suffers from severe dementia and would not give the piece of fabric back because she was moved and happy. Another technique we apply to awaken the senses is using spices in order to retract memories through smelling”, says K. Maltezou. “We want what we are doing to have a social impact, and not to be limited inside the nursing homes we have visited. And we are already past that. Our aim is to establish extroversion, especially regarding dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It is an issue that will concern a growing number of people in the future”, adds her life partner.


And he goes on to say: “I was very fond of my grandfather, who passed away because of Alzheimer’s disease. A lot of people may remember him, as my grandfather was Panos Markovits who won the Greek Football Cup in 1979 with Panionios Club and was the first qualified Greek coach. Seeing such a strong personality becoming distant and changing so rapidly is shocking. It is like watching a person slowly dying. It was the same with my grandmother who died from vascular dementia. Therefore, I grew up developing awareness to this regard”. According to the “Alzheimer Athens” organisation, official data show that one in five people over 80 will develop some form of dementia.


Today, about 200,000 people suffer from dementia in our country and the number is expected to dramatically grow in the future. This rising trend is not owed to some future outbreak of the disease, but rather to the demographic decline in our country due to the low birth rate that unimpededly leads to the fast-growing ageing of the Greek people.



Having faced countless hardships and setbacks with public nursing homes and the complicated and catastrophic bureaucratic system, their initiative is limited to private and non-profit elderly homes. Nine months ago, they received their first formal acknowledgment as, thanks to the founding grant of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, they have been able to implement the “Thāllo” programme in a total of ten elderly care units in Attica. In fact, a few days ago, they premiered a theatre play inspired by the years of their engagement with elderly people suffering from different types of dementia. The play is called “Violets and hyacinths” (“Meneksedes kai zoumpoulia”) and is on at the ‘Thision Theatre’ on Mondays and Tuesdays at 19.00. The plot is based on real stories told by elderly people and one of the old ladies “starring” attended the opening night. “It was unbelievable. Ms Evangelia kept saying ‘This has happened to me too’”. Not only did she not realise she was watching her life on stage, but she also made comparisons. At some moment she started intervening in the performance with new elements about the past which we, who had known her for six years, had never heard before. This is evidence that we have achieved something special, and we keep going”, underlines K. Maltezou.



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