Story and photos by Susan Mikula Campbell
According to the American Alzheimer's Association, more than 5.4 million Americans are living with the disease, including an estimated 55,000 in the Western New York region and close to 7,500 in Niagara County.
It also is estimated that more than 15 million family members and friends provide some kind of direct, unpaid care to those affected.
Those are just some of the cold facts about people suffering from Alzheimer's, dementia or memory loss. What's missing is the human cost - the constant stress for caregivers, the lack of socialization for the patient and caregiver and the need to talk with others experiencing the same thing.
A new service called Memory Lane Café is trying to get off the ground at Wheatfield's The Clubhouse Bro's Family Restaurant. It offers a once-a-month opportunity for an inexpensive meal or just coffee and dessert, a planned activity and a chance to talk with others dealing with Alzheimer's or dementia under the direction of experts from Peregrine's Landing Senior Community in Cheektowaga.
Last month, Memory Lane Café held its first meeting for both patients and their families.
Chris Glowacki of North Tonawanda provided soothing music while everyone enjoyed a tasty meatloaf dinner and topped it off with pecan pie for dessert. Afterwards, he played a harmonica and got everyone involved in singing along. May's activity was creating a hanging basket of flowers.
A Wheatfield resident brought her husband, looking for interaction with other caregivers and hoping to "pick up some hints on how to deal with things." It helps to see that other people are going through it, too, she said.
Sometimes it's difficult to go out with someone who has Alzheimer's. Other people might not understand things like verbal outbursts or eating problems. "Here it doesn't matter. Everyone knows what you're dealing with," she said, adding that the $5 meal is well worth the cost.
Her husband said little until he was coaxed by the group leaders into participating in the planting activity. He carefully chose his plants, and smiled as he informed everyone that his pot would be a late Mothers Day gift for his wife.
"I think it's fantastic," said Tracy Sturm of Town of Tonawanda of her experience with Memory Lane Café. As caregiver for her mother, a victim of a catastrophic stroke, not having to make a meal is a nice treat, she said, explaining that regular restaurants can be too noisy.
Plus, she pointed out, "These are professionals who work with memory-impaired people. They have a wealth of knowledge."
They have already helped her orchestrate part-time outside caregiver assistance for her mother, who needs someone with her 24/7.
"It's difficult to know where to start when you begin this process," Sturm said.
Sturm's parents, John and Patricia Sturm, met at Cortland State Teachers College. Both are retired teachers. After her mother's stroke, Sturm gave up her job and home in Tucson, Ariz., and her sister Mary left her home in Medina, Ohio, to become their mother's primary caretakers.
As a nurse practitioner, Sturm knew the pros and cons of putting their mother in a nursing home situation.
"She has behavior issues, and I feared they would overmedicate her and not let her maintain the skills she still has. She can understand a whole lot more than she can communicate," Sturm said. "She would have done it for us. She deserves expert care from people she is familiar with."
It's a family affair in more ways than one at Memory Lane Café. Charlene Brosius, administrator at Peregrine's Landing, leads the program with the help of Kashia Baldelli, case manager at Peregrine's, who is engaged to Brosius' son, and Kevin Maerten, Peregrine's life enrichment coordinator. Restaurant owner Todd Brosius, Charlene's husband, provides the meal.
"It's kind of our way of giving back," said Charlene Brosius, noting that her father had dementia, so she knows first hand how difficult it can be for families caring for a loved one to handle a social setting.
Memory Lane Café is usually open from 5 to 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month. Due to a scheduling conflict, however, this month's Memory Lane Café will be on June 26. The activity will be painting. Plans are in the works for a cruise night featuring antique cars for the July meeting, Baldelli said.
The Clubhouse Bro's Family Restaurant is located at 3386 Niagara Falls Blvd., Wheatfield (near the North Tonawanda border). The restaurant is closed to other patrons during Memory Lane Café.
A $5 dinner is available, which includes beverages and desserts provided courtesy of the Clubhouse, otherwise the event is free of cost. Activity material is provided by Peregrine's Landing Senior Community.
Call 716-474-3089 to confirm attendance at Memory Lane Café.