Hikes planned for those with younger-onset Alzheimer’s

July 10, 2023

Caregiving, Nature, Programs

Starting this July, people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s before age 65 will have a new opportunity to connect with others while exploring the great outdoors through a program called SOAR. The name is an acronym for Shared Outdoor Adventures for Resilience.

Offered by the UW Medicine Memory and Brain Wellness Center, SOAR will feature free monthly hikes in the Puget Sound area for small groups of people with younger-onset Alzheimer’s. Each participant brings along a family member or friend.

A lifelong recreation specialist from Seattle Parks and Recreation will lead the hikes. Optional transportation is provided. Hikes will be up to 3 or 4 miles. The type of terrain will vary among the different hikes to provide a challenge but still be accessible to a wide range of participants. Volunteer naturalists will join periodically to talk about plants and animals in the region.  SOAR will conclude with a nature retreat at Seattle’s Camp Long in June 2024. Everyone who participated throughout the year will be invited.

While around 10% of people with Alzheimer’s are diagnosed before age 65, most support services are geared toward people at a different stage of life. As a result, younger people navigating Alzheimer’s can feel isolated and alone. SOAR aims to change that.

“At the Memory and Brain Wellness Center, we’ve consistently seen a huge demand for programming tailored to the strengths of people with younger-onset Alzheimer’s. These requests include opportunities for physical activity that better meet their needs,” said program co-lead Marigrace Becker, program manager for Community Education and Impact at the Brain and Wellness Center. “We’re excited to launch SOAR to support families in this region.”

To offer SOAR, the Memory and Brain and Wellness Center will work in close partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation, known for being the first parks and recreation department in the nation to launch a specialized dementia-friendly recreation program in 2014.  

"I believe deeply in the power that nature and movement combined have and am thrilled to get to activate that power with the SOAR community,” said Brooke Sciullo,  a Seattle Parks and Recreation lifelong recreation specialist who will lead the hikes.

The SOAR program is made possible thanks to a 2023 Innovation Programs Grant from the I’m Still Here Foundation.

The foundation's founder, Dr. John Zeisel, said, “This is a new opportunity for the ISH Innovations Programs Grant. We are thrilled and excited to see SOAR come into being."

SOAR launched with a kickoff event on Wednesday, July 12, at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle. Activities included a program overview, snapshot of the monthly hikes throughout the year, group activities, lunch, and guided walks.

Registration information is coming soon. Contact mbecker1@uw.edu to be notified about upcoming hikes.