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Photo exhibit at senior center focuses on memory loss

By Linda McIntosh

Contributor

“Not to be Forgotten” is the apt name of a photo exhibit focusing on residents at Sunrise of La Jolla senior residence who are dealing with various kinds of memory loss and dementia.

“Memory loss is not visible to the camera,” said Sally McGraw, director of community relations at Sunrise. “You can’t tell looking at the photos that these people have memory impairments.”

That’s one of the messages McGraw hopes people take away from the exhibit, which is open to the public March 14.

The exhibit is the first of its kind at the senior residence and features 25 black-and-white portraits of residents taken by professional photographer Dawn Whitmore.

Whitmore said she got the idea for the exhibit while working as life enrichment manager at Sunrise. She got to know the residents while teaching painting, cooking and gardening.

“They became family to me, and I’m always taking pictures of my family,” Whitmore said. The project was as much about the end product (a photograph that would make residents and their families proud) as it was about the creative process of taking the picture and having residents recall special moments in their lives when they had been photographed.

“I shared some of my stories, and they got to share some of their important moments — then they thanked me for listening,” Whitmore said. The process usually ended in a hug.

The process also offered participants a chance to get back in touch with the past, which is therapeutic, especially for someone with memory loss.

“Any kind of storytelling, memory recall and verbal communication is helpful,” said Dee Silver, M.D., a neurologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla.

Through the picture taking and life storytelling, residents were encouraged to enjoy the moment. “It was a good way to bring out positive moments,” Whitmore said.

Most of the photos are portraits, but one picture captures a lighthearted moment between two friends at Sunrise. “They didn’t know each other when they came here, but now they’re best friends,” McGraw said. This photograph and the exhibit as a whole are intended to put a face on Alzheimer’s and other memory impairments.

“Some people are scared of the idea of memory loss or Alzheimer’s, but when we see the people smiling in the photos, we realize Alzheimer’s is not as scary — and it doesn’t mean doomsday,” Whitmore said.

The photographs are also intended to instill pride in the residents and their families, as well as bring awareness about memory-loss issues to the wider community.

“When I first saw the picture of my mom, it took my breath away,” said Deborah Horwitz, who lives in University City and whose mother is at Sunrise. “She looked just like my mom, and there was no sign of any memory impairment.”

McGraw agreed. “Each photograph provides a glimpse into the personality of our residents and the beauty and elegance of aging,” she said.

If you go

  • What: ‘Not to be Forgotten,’ a photo exhibit by Dawn Whitmore
  • When: 2 to 5 p.m. March 14
  • Where: Sunrise of La Jolla, 810 Turquoise St.
  • R.S.V.P.: By March 12
  • Information: (858) 488-4300