By Ashley Sava
The caregivers of those with memory loss often experience depression, anxiety and high stress. Providing round-the-clock care can take a toll on loved ones.
Roberto Sierra of Kyle knows that stress first-hand. His wife of more than 20 years, Lynda Sierra, passed away in 2014 after battling against dementia in the form of Alzheimer’s.
Sierra retired early from his job and spent several years attending to Lynda’s daily needs, making sure she made it to doctors appointments and in general keeping her safe in her own home.
Experiences like that were the catalyst for Sierra applying to be the program coordinator for Circle of Friends in Wimberley. This relatively new group, which meets at the Wimberley Community Center, offers a safe location where seniors with various forms of dementia can spend four hours each Thursday.
While they are in the circle, they participate in activities that stimulate their need for social interaction and activities. Caregivers then have a few hours of relief. In the end, experts say this kind of arrangement is better for both parties.
“The goal is to provide a break for the caregiver, as well as to give the participants an uplifting experience,” Linda Germain, a member of the Circle of Friends committee said. “Sometimes they really need to make time for themselves to go to their doctor appointments, or just to have a moment to themselves.”
Wimberley Senior Citizens Activities, Inc., a nonprofit organization, formed the Circle of Friends program to offer individuals who suffer from memory loss a chance for social engagement in a safe, supportive environment.
Carol Scheel, director of programs and president of Wimberley Senior Citizens Activities, Inc., said the program has been a long time coming.
“I knew that this needed to be done a long time ago,” she said.
The group started in January.
Scheel said she has seen a growing need for this kind of organization in the community, so she formed a steering committee made up of experienced professionals to design the program.
“I expect that it will grow and grow,” she said.
Right now, four participants are part of the circle. Not for a lack of recruiting, though, according to Germain.
“There is sometimes a reluctance to let go by the caregiver,” she said.
Scheel said many have inquired about the program, but a lot of the caregivers have expressed a hesitant attitude about leaving their loved one there. However, all the program volunteers are trained and experienced caregivers.
Jan Hendrix, the husband of one of the ladies in the program said that caregivers have nothing to worry about.
“I have complete confidence in the group, they’re wonderful,” he said. “I have no reservations leaving my wife with them.”
Hendrix said he notices a difference in his wife after she returns from the group.
“She can’t remember much of what happened, but her in-the-moment awareness is there, and it just perks her right up,” he said.
Circles of Friends is ready to take on more participants.
“We have more volunteers than we have seniors,” Scheel said. “We are now ready to take on more.”
Sierra said he believes the program is a huge success.
“We always do arts and crafts,” Sierra said. “They also like to listen to old music and dance. We try to keep them as physically and mentally stimulated as we can.”
They also keep the events seasonally appropriate. Last week the seniors were decorating a Cinco de Mayo-themed table runner.
“Any excuse for a party,” Germain said with a smile.
Committee member Annette Dunne said the organizers and volunteers have as much fun as the participants.
“We just have a ball with them,” she said.
The organizers arrive an hour early to set everything up, and stay afterwards to discuss problems, ideas and suggestions for the following session.
“We always talk about improvements for the next week,” Sierra said.
Besides crafts, music, and dancing, Sierra said the seniors are accompanied on outdoor walks, entertained with live music and provided with snacks. He said that this four-hour outing is something they look forward to all week.
“We have social, physical and educational curriculum,” he said.
Hendrix said having the four hours to himself has done him a lot of good.
“I can get things done and am able to go on my walks again,” he said.
Sierra agreed that it’s also good for caregivers to separate from their loved ones sometimes. He understands the amount of effort it takes to have that responsibility.
“Taking care of someone with dementia is a 24-hour-a-day job,” Sierra said. “It’s good for both people to spend some time apart, enjoying themselves.”