Mental health, aging focus of conference

Speakers bring expertise on memory function


As the population in Jefferson County ages, it becomes important for families to discuss cognitive health issues with their loved ones.

Centrum will host Perspectives on Memory on Feb. 2, a one-day conference at Fort Worden designed for social and healthcare professionals, artists, educators and lifelong learners.

“Aging is becoming a more frequent topic for all families to deal with,” said Robert Birman, Centrum executive director.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 34.7 percent of Jefferson County’s population was 65 or older in 2016, compared with an average of 14.8 percent of the population statewide.

The conference “is supposed to start dialogues between children and their aging parents or caregivers and those that they care for,” Birman said. “What is so incredible about this conference is we’ve got a memoirist, a visual artist, a choreographer (and) a brain scientist. We’ve got a whole mix of different disciplines that are coming to bear for one day with one central theme. It is going to be totally fascinating.”

The conference previously has been held at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle. This is the first time it will be at Fort Worden.

“We approached (the Frye) to do a partnership and to bring a conference to Jefferson County this year,” Birman said. “We are the oldest county in the state, and when we found out what they were doing in Seattle, we were really interested to collaborate and bring this topic material here, because it seems to be a perfect fit for Jefferson County.”

Conference topics

Through the wide lenses of creativity and aging, the conference will explore the topic of memory from multidisciplinary perspectives including psychology, sociology, neurology and technology, as well as the visual, literary and performing arts, a news release stated.

Lectures will be provided by international specialists and experts such as keynote speaker Charles Fernyhough and Thomas Grabowski, who will present findings in research and practice that question long-held assumptions about the way the mind works, challenging audiences to reframe their concept of memory.
“We have an amazingly well-educated population here, and I think they are attracted by the quality of the speakers that we are bringing to the table,” event coordinator Debbi Steele said. “It doesn’t matter about age, but I think that what is beautiful about that is that we are encouraging creativity (among) the aging.”

As folks age, they can be amazed and appalled by their memory at the same time, Steele said.

“It is like, ‘How can I remember something that happened when I was in high school, but I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday?’” she asked. “It does become kind of a fascinating subject to us as we get older, and every time I tell people about this, they say, ‘I want to go.’ That sounds fantastic, because we are interested in how our mind works and how our memory works. How can we make it work better?”


Charles Fernyhough

Fernyhough is an award-winning writer and psychologist, whose books include “The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves” and “A Thousand Days of Wonder: A Scientist’s Chronicle of his Daughter’s Developing Mind.”

His book “Pieces of Light: How the Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts,” was shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society Prize.

He also is the author of two novels, “The Auctioneer” and “A Box of Birds.” He has written for Scientific American, The Guardian, Financial Times and The Sunday Telegraph.

Fernyhough  is a professor of psychology at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

In this lecture, Fernyhough will describe a scientific consensus which sees memories as constructions made in the present rather than faithful representations of past events. Drawing on the latest research from the field, he will discuss why individuals forget their early childhoods, how memories are shaped by other people, and how the subjective experience of remembering changes in later life.

Treating memory as an act of narrative as much as a neurological process, Fernyhough will explore why our earliest memories are full of light, and why siblings remember the same event from their childhoods so differently.

Gretchen Frances Bennett

Bennett is a visual artist, writer and an adjunct professor of fine arts at Seattle University. She received master’s degree in visual arts from Rutgers University with postgraduate studies at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Working primarily in drawing, the Seattle-based artist explores issues related to visual perception and the fluid nature of memory, and their combined ability to spark unexpected poetic associations across time and subject matter. Her work demonstrates a preoccupation with small, deliberately ahistorical events, many of them diffuse between past and present — a timelessness further enhanced by the up-close interiority of single images.

In her illustrated lecture, Bennett will discuss how place and memory inform her creative practice.

Clara Berridge

Berridge is assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work. She received a master’s from the UW, a Ph.D. in social welfare from the University of California- Berkeley, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Brown University’s Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research. She now studies the social and ethical implications of technologies that monitor older adults to ease caregiving.

During her lecture, Berridge will reflect on the ethical contours of care technologies, illustrating how devices both embody and challenge values that matter to older adults.

Thomas Grabowski

Grabowski is a neurologist who studies how the brain supports words and language — in both its healthy state and in disease — using brain imaging to understand and better approach memory loss and dementia.

In addition to serving as professor of radiology and neurology at the University of Washington, he is the director of the UW Medicine Memory and Brain Wellness Center, heading a clinical team working toward a world in which people live well with memory loss within a community of support.

During his lecture, Grabowski will discuss how the brain organizes information according to the ways it interacts with the world through vision, hearing, touch and muscular action. He also will explore how brain maturation continues well into adulthood and builds the remarkably stable, yet modifiable, systems that support memory. There are different brain systems for remembering different kinds of material: emotions, episodes, words, facts and skills. Some are affected more than others by the diseases that cause memory loss, and that accounts for specific signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

Grabowski’s presentation will consider how the spared systems may be used to help compensate for the impaired systems..

Ann Hedreen

Hedreen is a writer, filmmaker and teacher. Her memoir, “Her Beautiful Brain,” won a 2016 Next Generation Indie award. She also has won Emmys and other filmmaking honors, including Women in Film’s Nell Shipman award for “Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story.”

Hedreen will discuss examples from notable memoirists and lead a short writing exercise that aims to illustrate how memory is fallible and malleable and not a constant, clear stream. The way to begin to access that truth is through the memories offered by the five senses.

Kevin Iega Jeff 
Jeff is co-founder and artistic director of Deeply Rooted Productions in Chicago and collaborates on a range of community-engaged projects across the country. His work has been featured in several films, including Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” and in the Broadway shows “Comin’ Uptown” and “The Wiz.”

Following a short dance performance, Iega will lead participants in a movement exercise and conclude with a group discussion of the experience. He will explore how emotional memory may be stored in many places in the body, not just in the brain, and how to access it.


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