By Zeynab Day
Student Writer, EKU Communications & Marketing
The “Memory Café” class at Eastern Kentucky University isn’t serving up food but, rather, camaraderie, fun and expertise for Alzheimer’s care clients.
Eastern students usher in dozens of couples for free fitness screenings at the YMCA in Richmond. Shirley Parks watches as her husband, Charles Parks, laughs and jokes with EKU students during his screening.
“Charles is a talker,” Shirley said. “The program gives him a chance to socialize and be with others who he can relate to.”
The couple also attend “The Place to Be,” a respite program sponsored by EKU for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
Both programs are student-led through classes offered by the EKU Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. More than 50 students are enrolled and the programs service more than 30 clients, said Katherine Nicholas, class instructor and Alzheimer’s specialist.
Eastern’s Alzheimer’s care programs are designed to encourage interpersonal communication, friendship building and fitness initiatives for individuals with both early and moderate stages of the disease. Although both classes take similar approaches to Alzheimer’s care, they offer different services for clients.
“The Place to Be” is a one-on-one respite program tailored to the individual client. Caregivers drop off the clients to hang out with students for a few hours once a week. Students and clients participate in a number of activities designed to be socially and cognitively stimulating, including games, singing, walking, cooking and more.
“Students interview families and the client to find out what their values are and what they like to do and we try to accommodate that,” Nicholas said. “We hope to offer a stimulating environment where they can preserve cognitive and social skills.”
“The Place to Be” program can also benefit caregivers, giving them a chance to run errands or take some personal time, Nicholas said.
“It gives me a break, too,” Shirley Parks said. “And I know he’s watched over well.”
She also turns to other caregivers who attend “The Place to Be” and the “Memory Café” for support and guidance.
“We can converse about what’s going on in our lives,” Parks said. “We feed off each other and pick up different ideas.”
Parks has seen many old friends at events but the couple have made many new friends as well. Most clients are from Madison County, and many were already acquaintances and friends.
The spring 2015 “Memory Café” students were inspired by those ties and organized a sock hop inspired by the 1950s. Members brought their yearbooks, reminisced about high school and danced. Students create multiple outings every semester.
Recently, “The Place to Be” clients took an “armchair” trip to Keeneland. They wore Derby hats, listened to bluegrass music and played a game of “horserace bowling” in the classroom. Most “Memory Café” events are scheduled on Tuesdays from 3 to 5 p.m. at varied community locations including popular restaurants, ice cream parlors, Galaxy Bowling and Gibson Bay. The YMCA recently paired up with the classes to offer an aquatics program on Wednesdays from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., Nicholas said.
Shirley Parks said her husband has attended many events, adding that his favorite has been dining out.
“Charley loves the programs too,” Parks said. “He liked going bowling, going out to eat and playing putt-putt golf. It’s nice to see familiar faces.”
While “The Place to Be Program” is a drop-off respite program where Eastern students work one-on-one with clients, the “Memory Café” offers engaging social events for individuals with memory loss and their caregivers. Many of the people who attend “Memory Café” events are couples who come to the events for a chance to socialize with others who are facing similar challenges.
“A memory café provides a safe, comfortable, engaging environment where people with memory loss and their care partners can laugh, learn, and remain socially engaged with others travelling the same journey,” said Nicholas.
Jess Leadingham, 19, pre-dental student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said her experiences with the “Memory Café” class have helped her relate better to people by giving her a chance to work with individuals not in her normal social group. She said the skills she has learned from the program will help her when she goes into the workforce.
“I like that you get a hands-on opportunity to work with people,” Leadingham said. “I will be able to take away social skills that are outside of my regular friend groups.”
The class continues to be offered as a free elective because it can offer valuable experience for students of any major, Nicholas said.
“Look at their life skills and what we are creating as a citizen,” Nicholas said of the students. “Everything they are learning is transferable to other relations.”
“The Place to Be” was started in the early 1990’s, based on “A Dignified Life: The Best Friend’s Approach to Alzheimer’s Care,” a book by noted Alzheimer’s experts Virginia Bell and David Troxel. The two also developed “Best Friends Model of Alzheimer’s Care,” a program that took the values proposed in the book and created the community-based approach.
“We still use that book today,” Nicholas said. “All of our students study from that book.”
Nicholas, who has led the respite program at Eastern since 1997, said Bell and Troxel launched a community-based respite program for Alzheimer’s Care in Lexington. “The Place to Be” was inspired by the Lexington model and was one of the first of its kind in the nation. Similar programs now exist worldwide. The Memory Café is based on a European model of care and is being expanded throughout the U.S. by the Alzheimer’s Association.