The Pride is Priceless

A Toronto woodworking program allows men living with dementia to build friendships and confidence

Photo by Tina Krliu.

Photo by Tina Krliu.

Calling all handymen! The Alzheimer Society of Toronto has found a way to put carpentry skills to good use with Men’s Shed, an eight-week woodworking program for men living with early- to mid-stage dementia.

The program is named after an international social movement for men that originated in Australia with a mandate to “advance the well-being and health of their male members and to encourage social inclusion.” Men’s Shed with the Alzheimer Society of Toronto has a similar objective: to foster friendships and build confidence through craftsmanship. The program began last September thanks to a $34,800 Seed grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. 

“Research showed me that older male adults are finding it more difficult to make new friendships or to maintain their friendships. Seniors report that after a dementia diagnosis, their circle of friends shrinks,” says Tina Krliu, community programs coordinator with the Alzheimer Society of Toronto.

“[Men’s Shed] seemed like the best way to encourage our clients to meet new friends, share their experience, stay productive and contribute.”

At the time of publication, the program currently has between 10 and 12 participants who meet every Tuesday at the Toronto Tool Library’s Makerspace. With a full arsenal of equipment at their disposal, the group works together to craft a variety of projects that include wine racks, lamps and keychain holders. Woodworking experience can vary, the classes are supervised by volunteers, and caregivers are invited to join in, too. 

Meanwhile, the nature of project-building inherently inspires teamwork and the friendships organically follow.

“They help each other out, they share their skills, their knowledge, and they make new friends. The friendships are naturally occurring and happen by working together on a project and through that camaraderie,” Krliu says.

An added bonus for participants is that they have a physical manifestation of their capabilities to take home.

“It’s very tangible. You’ve created this, and then you get home and you show your loved ones, ‘Look, look what I did.’ And everybody is amazed. They’re praised for their success,” Krliu says.

“We’re bringing the self-esteem back to the men in our program, who [might] have been told that they can no longer use their tools because they have dementia. I think that pride when they see that final product is priceless. For me, it’s heartwarming.” [ ]