Every third Wednesday of the month, Pam pulls into the parking lot of a local church, parks and heaves out the walker Jim now needs to get around. She gently reminds him of where he should place his hands to ensure stability before guiding him through the church doors and carefully down some stairs to the room she knows will provide Jim – and her – some much needed social interaction.
Pam and Jim* are two of the nine other couples who have found some comfort in a Barrington Area Council on Aging pilot program that addresses the socialization needs of those with mild cognitive impairment and their care companions.
The Memory Café is a free program providing critical socialization opportunities for those with mild memory issues along with their caregivers and is being offered once monthly by BACOA.
“Socialization is critical to older people aging well,” said Bonnie Scherkenbach, a BACOA social service coordinator and licensed counselor. “But oftentimes when older adults begin to show signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia, many begin to isolate or sever social connections.”
And that is a problem according to Joyce Palmquist, executive director at BACOA.
“Social connections are important to one’s overall wellbeing,” said Palmquist. “People with cognitive issues shouldn’t be isolating – they should be reaching out for needed support.”
Support and connection are the driving concepts behind the Memory Café. The program provides a safe, nonjudgmental environment where participants can enjoy playing board or card games as they chat about everything from local history to current events. Cultural programs and trips to local attractions also keep participants engaged. Special speakers or local professionals offering comfort care programs are also often invited.
“There’s some great research that illustrates how art and music are great connectors of people with dementia and other memory-related concerns,” said Scherkenbach.
“We’ll bring in art and music teachers to guide us through a painting or music class.”
Participants and their caregivers learn very quickly how to trust the Memory Café environment.
“Participants learn that they can just be themselves – even if they repeat or forget things,” said Scherkenbach. “No one is going to chide or criticize them about things they might not remember. And caregivers are provided a built-in support system so that as their loved ones may decline, they have people who understand and are experiencing the same challenges.”
BACOA has an entire series of programs for caregivers with the Memory Café enabling both a client and caregiver to attend together. The Memory Café was introduced as a pilot program in October, but it quickly gained popularity with attendance more than doubling by November.
“There’s a clear community need,” said Scherkenbach. “It’s a program that we’re hoping to continue.”
BACOA offers the Memory Café locally every third Wednesday of the month from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. The program is free but registration is required.
*Not their real names
Founded thirty years ago, the Barrington Area Council on Aging exists to promote #AgingBetter, or vibrant, healthy aging through activities, education, and support to adults and caregivers. BACOA serves approximately 1,200 individuals a year and assists the community in the following ways:
Information on housing options or in-home care services * Meals-with-Wheels * Enrollment in Medicare and Medicaid * Counseling on insurance, benefits and Medicare Part D * Support and education groups for seniors and caregivers * Activities and programs for active seniors * A day respite program for older adults * Educational programs and services for the community on issues related to aging
To see how BACOA embraces their mission daily, search #AgingBetter for their social media updates via Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest and find more information about their programs at BACOA.org.