An Oasis of Companionship
Once a month at the Levine Center in Matthews, Julie Bigham brings together those whose memories are fading and those who care for them. Memory Café is a social event, a chance for those with Alzheimer’s to connect with others, to get out among peers, and to enjoy a couple hours of fun. In addition, it is a an opportunity for caregivers to meet others in the same situation who may feel isolated in their caretaking, to know there are many others who are walking their same journey.
The program varies each month from art therapy, to music, to performances, and to crafts. Julie is helped by a slate of volunteers who understand the complexity of Alzheimer’s. She said, “I have one volunteer who is retired from nursing, two who both cared for mothers with dementia, and two ladies from the community who just have big, warm, welcoming hearts.” Julie has worked as an activity professional in skilled care, independent and assisted living, and in memory care since 1993. “In every setting I have worked, there is one common denominator: families who are struggling. I have a passion to help these families better understand dementia, and how to bring joy back to their homes by maximizing their family time in the midst of Alzheimer’s of other forms of dementia.”
Volunteer Janice White said, “My interest and involvement in the Memory Café came from my personal experience and privilege of caring for my mother during the last five years of her life. I knew any activity was crucial in keeping her brain stimulated. The Memory Café serves both the caretaker and the client, and the activities and programs are carefully planned.” Although Janice’s mother has passed away, she went on to say, “I am blessed to be able to encourage someone else’s mom or daddy, sharing the love my mother shared with me.”
Through Julie’s background, she has developed the Joy Filled Visits Kit, a box filled with all the tips, tools, and personal stories she has found useful in her career in memory care. The content of this box helps encourage families as they care for a loved one through every stage of the disease. “The main goal is to keep loved ones active and engaged as long as possible, creating memories for the family,” Julie said. She is now building the business to provide support and encouragement for family caregivers, training for professional caregivers, and, of course, hosting the Memory Café to help prevent isolation and depression for both the caregivers and those being cared for.
The Memory Café is not designed to be a support group, but rather a time for fostering fun. “Sometime caregivers become so focused on doctor’s appointments and medications, they forget there is joy to be had.” The program was started in the United Kingdom, to address both the stigma and the isolation of dementia, and came to the U.S. in the late 1990’s. Its benefit is making its way around the country.
The Memory Café is free of charge and is held the second Friday of each month from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. The meeting on March 9 will feature violinist Christine Robinson. For more information or to register, contact Julie’s website www.joyfilledvisits and her Facebook page joy filled visits, LLC.