Memory Café Offers Respite
for both Family Caregivers and Loved Ones with Dementia
by Greg Oliver – The Seneca Journal

Enduring Alzheimer’s disease, or any other type of dementia or brain disorder, can be a trying time—not only for the individual but also the caregiver.

A nonprofit called Memory Café is trying to provide a respite to those afflicted with the early-to0middle stages of the disease and those who care for them, on a daily basis.  The effort seems to be paying off, growing from four original participants, when the program began last July, to anywhere from 10 to 20 who meet from 1-3 p.m. the first Monday of the month at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Seneca.

Bonnie Holmes, who serves as a volunteer, along with Mary Ann Johnson, said as president of Loving Health Care Inc., she had been taking care of people with serious dementia issues for 16 years.

“I felt it was a shame many ended up in isolation,” Holmes said.  “There wasn’t anything I could do until I learned of Memory Café.  People come, we go on field trips, they meet people in similar situations, and have fun together.  The people who come don’t pay anything, and it is going so much better than I ever dreamed it would.”

Holmes said the Memory Café program originated in England before making its way to the United States, where there are now approximately 100 groups.

However, she pointed out that the Seneca site is the only location in Oconee County. “This is a place where people can come and laugh, learn and cry with their loved ones, and stay socially engaged in a supportive environment with friendship and acceptance.  Holmes said, “You can see their faces.  They’re relaxed, smiling and happy, and it’s not the stress a person who is a caregiver normally experiences.  They are normally under such stress that they usually put their loved one with dementia under stress.  But they’re loving and enjoying this, and that’s what we want.”

In recent months, Holmes said the group has been on field trips that included a hayride and picking pumpkins as well as a pontoon ride on Lake Keowee.  “People who were feeling tense before were relaxed because their loved one wasn’t asking for anything and the caregiver didn’t feel pressure,” she said.  “They were holding hands, laughing and having a good time.

While planning field trips can be a stressful experience, Holmes, a retired educator, said it is something she loves to do.  “When I was younger, I was a principal and took my kids on field trips left and right,” Holmes said.  “I am so used to planning field trips that, to me, it’s second nature.”

Marla Fuller, minister of communications at St. Mark UMC and a worker with the senior ministry Elderberry program, said the Memory Café gives participants “a place to be themselves.”

“In a society where people look at them as different, it’s a place they can be with their peers and be themselves,” Fuller said.  “They’re not just sitting around and are in a safe place.”

“It’s a lot of work, but this is something I really love to do,” Holmes said.  For more information on the Memory Café program call Bonnie at (864) 916-9204.