For the last year, KYC has been proud to host it’s monthly Memory Café for older adults and their caregivers. Although the café had to change formats due to COVID-19, we’re proud to share the final grant report with you, our community and friends.
Kenneth Young Center (KYC)’s Memory Café offers older adults and their caregivers a safe space to learn about available resources, interconnect with other seniors and senior-care providers with lived experience, and enjoy an afternoon of lunch and entertainment. This monthly event brings clients together for a few hours, providing informal opportunities for KYC staff to assess health changes, discuss current challenges, and build interpersonal relationships with others dealing with similar needs.
KYC launched its first Memory Café at the end of 2018, however state and federal support of the program was significantly cut by more than 60% for the 2019 – 2020 fiscal year. Thanks to the generosity of the Kott Foundation, these funding cuts did not impact the quality of the services provided to participants, but allowed programming to continue in October, 2019. Monthly café events were held in person from October, 2019 to February, 2020, engaging participants over lunch with an educational activity, stimulating social interactions, craft opportunities to provide creative outlets, and memory and sensory recollection tools. The café also offered participants a well-balanced, nutritional meal, with interspersed opportunities to try new and healthy food options to broaden participants’ palates for healthier alternatives to fast food, which can be procured with little preparation, but does not offer diversified nutrition. Each café ended with a brief survey of the day’s events, providing critical feedback to cater future events to clients’ needs and interests, while also offering an anonymous opportunity share any areas for improvement. KYC is proud to share that we have yet to receive any negative feedback about the Memory Café, except that clients wished it was hosted more often!
As COVID-19 forced all activities to stop in-person, KYC’s team immediately initiated extensive one-on-one phone sessions. Clients struggling with access to food were connected with the Home Delivered Meals Program and support groups for older adult caregivers were transitioned to virtual platforms. Multiple grants have been submitted to support providing tablets and technological devices to our most critically in need clients for social engagement, but all have remained connected through regular calls by phone.
Memory Café activity baskets have been made with exercise tools, creative activities, self-care materials, and games to support older adults and their caregivers during quarantine. Additionally, baskets included hand sanitizer/disinfectant spray, disposable gloves, and face masks to help protect these older adults when outside travel was unavoidable. Each pair also received a gift card to Panera with funds to purchase to-go lunches on par with the meals provided at the Memory Café to provide a small amount of respite to caregivers and a healthier nutrition option for older adults. The materials selected for each caregiver basket have been specifically chosen to be used individually at the leisure of the older adults, but also can be used in a group setting once virtual events are possible. For example, recipients received strength resistance bands to assist with muscle development, gentle stretching, and low-impact exercise. These bands can be easily used individually, while we also plan to use them through a virtual “Sit and Stay Fit” class this summer. Through the activity baskets, we can ensure clients can remain engaged in the café until it is safe to return to in-person gatherings.
Over the last two years, KYC’s Memory Café has built a strong following of consistently participatory guests, supporting 15 participants through regular participation and approximately 40 older adults including those with more sporadic participation. The participants themselves have been the greatest referral source, bringing friends to the café and recommending participation to others. It has also been an integral advocacy tool, as KYC has engaged local legislative representatives to join the café, giving them a chance to see firsthand the needs of older adults as they age within our communities.
In addition to participant surveys and individual phone follow-up sessions, KYC’s Older Adult Division held Memory Café discussion meetings to assess strategies and activities that were working well with participants, as well as areas of improvement. Staff with varying involvement with the café were consulted to ensure diversity of representation and staff with recent experience in senior care were also consulted to share innovative opportunities for client engagement. KYC’s Communication Team also promoted events at community outreach fairs, through social media, on KYC’s website, and through KYC’s email distribution to 5,000 community members. They also worked with local community faith leaders to share information on the Memory Café to bring participants from the broader community and expand the café’s impact. These meetings also recruited new volunteers to support the monthly events, bringing additional input, exposure, and engagement.
Of course, COVID-19 significantly impacted the Memory Café’s ability to provide the social interaction piece of the project over the last five months, however for many of the caregiver/care recipients, increased individualized attention met their changing needs. Unfortunately, for far too many older adults we serve, social isolation has become an increasing problem in the pandemic and although many events and services are available online, for older adults without technology or in-home support to access/utilize technology, the separation from the community is even more deeply felt. KYC continues to provide support by phone and has offered phone entertainment materials like Mather Telephone Topics, a toll-free number offering a range of interesting discussions and programs by phone. We have also engaged volunteers to write positive messages and cards for clients, as well as youth decorated artwork to brighten older adults’ days while remaining socially distant. Donated care packages have been delivered and gift cards for grocery stores with senior hours have helped bridge the nutritional gap, in addition to increased communication about local pantry options that had drive-thru contactless pickup days. Over the weeks and months to come, KYC continues to provide increased support by phone and is working with funders and donors to create both written and digital support materials to help keep older adults stable in their homes. As we anticipate isolation for this most vulnerable group of older adults will likely span into 2021, we are also working to establish a pen pal/socially distant friendly volunteer connection. This deeply needed social engagement will help mentally stimulate older adults (especially those who are home alone for significant periods of time), while engaging volunteers to experience firsthand the needs of our growing senior population.
Success Story (Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the pair.)
Susan was attending a business expo, struggling to walk up and down the rows of businesses, when she saw a booth for Kenneth Young Center and an open chair in our exhibition space. Tired and sore, she took a seat not knowing what KYC was, but grateful for the opportunity to rest. A KYC staff person greeted Susan with a piece of candy and a warm smile. She shared a little information on programs and upcoming events, including the Memory Café for caregivers and older adults. “Well, I’m not a caregiver” explained Susan. “I just live with my mom who is in her 80s and needs help around the house.” As the two talked, the staff person gently explained that not all caregivers are paid and that there are resources for family members living as full-time care providers. Susan took a flyer for the next month’s Memory Café and said, “Free lunch? How can we refuse!”
The following month, Susan and her mother nervously walked into Kenneth Young Center for the café. They immediately saw the staff person Susan had met earlier, who walked over to greet them and welcomed Susan by name. Her face lit up as the three walked into large room together. The staff person introduced Susan and her mother Ann to KYC’s Caregiver Support Specialist, who seated them with another mother/daughter pair. While eating lunch, Susan chatted with another daughter caring for her mother and Ann happily danced in her seat to the music playing. They completed a keepsake craft, received caregiver materials, and picked up an invitation to the following month’s event. Between cafés, Susan spoke one-on-one with the Caregiver Support Specialist to evaluate her needs, and the pair have attended each month’s events as two of our most regular guests. Both Susan and Ann are receiving additional support services through KYC’s Older Adults Division. “I didn’t know how much I was struggling until I found help making our day-to-day lives easier. I’m happier and my mom loves the time out with our KYC friends” shared Susan.
KYC is deeply grateful to the Kott Foundation for making this experience possible.
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