Beth Soltzberg: Meeting People Where They Are

Beth Soltzberg is a social worker who has devoted her entire career to prioritizing personality and joy in the process of aging. Currently, she directs the Alzheimer’s/Related Disorders Family Support Program at Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS) in Waltham, Massachusetts.

In March of 2014, Beth launched the first intergenerational memory café in Massachusetts, and JF&CS has held a memory café every month since.

Beth told us, “I’ve learned so much from people who are living with dementia – the richness of different perspectives, different ways of communicating, and also the enduring personhood of people, even when navigating in a world that’s not built for people living with dementia.”

Still, much work remains. “People can have so much better quality of life when we do some things around reducing stigma,” Beth reminded us. She is now working to ensure that more people, in any part of the world, can experience a memory café through the JF&CS Memory Café Percolator, which provides resources, toolkits, and idea exchanges for those wanting to start a café in their local community. Recently the Dementia Action Alliance and the Percolator have begun a more formal collaboration focused on helping memory cafés find ways that people living with dementia can take on broader development and leadership roles at memory cafés.

Complementary to Beth’s work with memory cafés is her leadership in the Dementia Friends USA Network. She is the state coordinator for Massachusetts and a tireless advocate for reaching all cultural and linguistic communities within the state. Beth has insisted, “If we’re going to lead something called ___ Massachusetts, it has to be accessible to everyone who lives in Massachusetts.” Dementia Friends Massachusetts, as of this writing, offers resources in 9 different languages!

Four participants on a Zoom call, smiling and collaborating.
Beth meeting via Zoom with community partners in Dementia Friends Massachusetts: Judith Thermidor, who is leading Dementia Friends sessions in Haitian Creole, Kathy Service, who is working on the version of Dementia Friends for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and Saw Reh who is leading sessions in Burmese, Karenni and Vietnamese.

Partnerships in more cultural and linguistic communities have been essential to the growth of Dementia Friends Massachusetts. Beth has so thoughtfully navigated the balance between fostering shared experiences of those living with dementia, while also acknowledging the variety of cultural or environmental contexts that a dementia diagnosis can enter into. Much of her work is tailored to communities of a specific race or ethnicity, but “It’s not just culture in the way we might always think about it. [Dementia Friends Massachusetts] is also working on a version of the curriculum specifically for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Beth said. Similarly, people in medical settings, like long term care facilities, might need information that is contextualized differently from those receiving care in their home.

Beth notes that “By meeting people where they are and supporting structures for understanding that take context into account – culture, language, sector, or where people are in their journey with dementia – that’s how we create equity. From a place of equity, we can share community together and thrive.”

Want to learn more and join Beth in her support of people living with dementia?