Comfort Today has opened its doors to caregivers and loved ones suffering from the effects of memory loss.
The Tanglewood Group has begun hosting free Memory Cafe events twice a month at Comfort Today, 17 Gifford Ave. in West Ellicott.
Memory Cafes are casual social meeting venues for individuals suffering from memory loss and their caregivers. The concept originated in Europe in the 1990s. The purpose of the group is to provide a stigma-free environment for caregivers and their loved ones.
Melissa D’Agostino, LPN and corporate trainer for the Tanglewood Group, is pictured with two residents of Memory Garden.
P-J photo by Dusten Rader
According to Cheryl M. Krull, chief financial officer for Tanglewood Manor, the cafe's organizers hope to help reduce the isolation often felt by people dealing with dementia and memory loss.
"Memory Cafes differ from ordinary support groups because they focus on the relationships of people affected by memory issues rather than the disease itself," said Krull. "The cafe will offer people with Alzheimer's or other dementias and their families an opportunity to relax and enjoy socialization, refreshments and entertainment with others who have the same cares and concerns."
The Memory Cafe events are held twice a month on the first and third Tuesdays. The first Tuesday event is focused on providing services for all people dealing with memory loss and their caregivers, and the meetings run from 2-3:30 p.m. On the third Tuesday of each month, the gatherings will be for caregivers only, and will run from 2-3 p.m. Coffee, treats and enjoyable activities will be provided to attendees at no charge, and there is no expectation to sign up for any further services.
"We're not trying to rope them up and bring them in - it's a free service," said Krull.
The Memory Cafe events are hosted by Melissa D'Agostino, LPN and corporate trainer for the Tanglewood Group. According to D'Agostino, caring for a loved one with dementia can take a heavy toll on the physical and emotional well-being of the caretaker in various ways. And, those suffering from memory loss often experience discomfort in social situations due to the changes in behavior associated with the disease.
"The Memory Cafe is much more than a support group; it is a place where caretakers and their loved ones can interact with people in similar circumstances without worry of stigma or embarrassment," said D'Agostino. "Trained staff and volunteers are primarily the facilitators, since the cafe belongs to the participants. Loosely structured activities are planned and available, for whatever the level of need may be. The time is meant for comfortable socialization, and plans are flexible according to individual moods and needs for the day. New found friends offer not only support, but ideas and approaches that have worked for them in dealing with many issues that you may discover are not unique to you."
Activities range from games such as Lumosity to exercise the brain, equipment such as the Cybercycle to exercise the body, picnics and fishing off the dock in Ferreri Park, a full-service beauty salon, live entertainment and many more avenues for peer socialization.
Memory Cafe participants can expect social contact with others having similar experiences, peer support, free valuable information and education, and an informal, relaxed and stigma-free environment. However, attendees will not be provided with formal care service, clinical assessments or personal care.
According to D'Agostino, there is a stigma associated with Alzheimer's and other dementias that once a diagnosis is made people often lose friends as a result.
"Often people become isolated, and social connections that were once dear begin to diminish," said D'Agostino. "It is quite easy to become deprived of the social support that is so desperately needed, as growing stress and lifestyle changes ensue within new roles. ... We want people to feel that they don't need to hide it. We want them to feel that they have a place to go to make friends and learn along the way."
Another aspect of the program is for employees of the Tanglewood Group to share their expertise with caregivers, which will mostly occur during the caregiver-only days.
"A common thing I've seen is that a caregiver may talk about a loved one in front of them as if they are not there," said D'Agostino. "Those are the kinds of things that shouldn't be done that we offer guidance with."
Progression of Alzheimer's and other dementias can take many years to occur, or it can onset quickly and in even occur in the young. Therefore, providing the necessary tools of learning to adapt to the effects of disease for both caregivers and those afflicted is a goal of the Memory Cafe.
"The more people are educated on how to deal and upon the resources available, the better," said Krull.
Patti Leake, marketing and community relations for Tanglewood Group, said it is her hope that this new concept will fill a void for many families in the region.
"We truly believe that this is a valuable necessity for communities everywhere that is long overdue," said D'Agostino.