FIT Kit’s story began in 2004, when Elia Femia and Karen Love were brought together on an Alzheimer’s demonstration research project in Washington, DC. Karen had been pioneering the use of Montessori-based techniques to better engage people living with dementia socially, emotionally, and physically. She experienced good results in nursing homes and assisted living. The demonstration project tested the effect in the adult day program setting. Elia was serving on Alzheimer’s Association of the National Capital area Board of Directors and was the research investigator on the project. Their meeting and partnership turned out to be providential. They both had similar passions for wanting to make life more enjoyable for people with dementia. Happily, they also found that they lived 5 blocks apart in Falls Church, VA.
In her 20+ year career in long term care, Karen had many times experienced the ‘spark’ that can light up in the eyes of someone with dementia who is meaningfully engaged. Elia knew the magic existed, but seeing Karen at work, quickly learned how the right approach and mindset could ignite the spirit. The person enlivens! Four years after their first project together, in 2008, they started FIT Interactive and with funding provided by the National Institute on Aging, began the work to research, develop, and test FIT Kits®!
Karen and Elia have met hundreds of people who have experienced the spark that can be ignited. Here are just a few examples - Mr. B, a former engineer, loved stacking Jenga blocks with precision. His skill was such that others would stop as they walked by and praise his stacking talent. Mrs. M, who had been an elementary school teacher, loved tackling any 36-piece animal puzzle. Every time she placed the last puzzle piece, she would throw her hands in the air and laugh with infectious merriment. Anyone nearby couldn’t help but share in the laughter too. Mr. N shared his magic when given a Buddha Board and a water pen. His drawing skills from a career as an architect came alive.
Mr. B, Mrs. M, Mr. N, and others all had advanced dementia. Without meaningful engagement, these individuals could have sat passively, experiencing boredom, anxious wandering, or feelings of agitation and restlessness. Instead, when meaningfully engaged, they rarely exhibited these behaviors. If someone didn’t know them, one might think that the individuals were at an earlier stage of dementia. That is part of the power and benefit of engagement.
What happens physically when people living with dementia have their spirits “sparked” is the limbic system deep within the brain ignites and sends out neurotransmitters that stimulate good feelings and spark neural activity. Activities like painting, listening to enjoyable music, drawing, and other activities that individuals find interesting, spark the release of these neurotransmitters. For some, the result of the “sparks’ is joy and laughter. For others, it is quiet, focused concentration. For all, the result is greater connectedness to people and activities around them. Most will not remember specifically what they did that made them feel good, but the good feelings linger – which is what matters most.
FIT stands for “Families (and friends) Interacting Together,” which is a key aspect of the company’s mission. Family members and other care partners are instrumental in helping someone live more fully with dementia. Many care partners, however, are challenged by how to help the person stay active and engaged. They need education to understand that people living with dementia lose the ability to find interesting things to do themselves. This is because the part of the brain that handles this function stops working. Some care partners wrongly assume that the person’s inactivity is by his or her own choice. Elia and Karen also find this misunderstanding among professionals in the aging field. The magic of enjoyment, fun, and laughter doesn’t just include individuals living with dementia. It spreads to the people around them, who became drawn to the positive feelings. It is like fairy dust has been sprinkled around affecting everyone.
To start FIT, Elia and Karen had to surmount almost paralyzing fear because they had no business, manufacturing, or marketing knowledge or experience. They worked out of Karen’s unheated garage which served as their warehouse and distribution center, and eventually partnered with MED-PASS to handle the assembly and distribution of FIT Kits® nationally and internationally. Karen and Elia continue to research and test new items to keep adding to the selection of wonderful and interesting dementia engagement products. Kit items must honor a person’s adulthood, utilize his or her strengths, and be easily used across all stages of dementia. They’ve partnered with design experts and manufacturers to custom produce some items that currently don’t exist as needed in the marketplace.
Another amazing expert in the field, Kelly Sheets, is also part of FIT’s team, and together, we serve the mission of improving lives and igniting the spirit of those who live with dementia and those who care about them. Everyone has within them the ability to ignite the spirit in someone living with dementia. They just need a little help to create the spark for fun and enjoyment. FIT Kits® provide the spark, through easy-to-use items and informational guides that provide the information they need. Get a FIT Kit now and experience the magic!