Blog

Up and At ‘Em

We all know that the more we move, the better we feel. But it’s the first step that’s always the hardest. Once we are walking or stretching or playing a game, it is fun. The best part, however, is that it is good for us.

For people with dementia, physical activity improves health and wellbeing in several ways:

  • Improving mood, reducing stress, and increasing calm, which helps to reduce aggression, wandering, or agitation
  • Improving physical abilities for everyday tasks
  • Reducing fall risk because of improved strength and balance
  • Slowing mental decline
  • Reducing depression
  • Improving heart health
  • Getting a sense of purpose and accomplishment while staying engaged and occupied
  • Improving sleep and reducing sundowning symptoms (dailycaring.com)

Staff and volunteers at Among Friends involve our participants in a variety of activities from bowling to table-top pool to chair yoga.

Every day brings fun things to do–while slipping in some healthful side benefits as well.

What Does It Feel Like to Have Dementia?

Retired Australian surgeon and public speaker John Roth, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, wants others to know, “I am the same person with a thirst for knowledge, a strong social conscience, a love of debate and I just happen to have a condition called Alzheimer’s Disease.”

He maintains that “memory does not define a person.  It is imply one of the tools mankind has to survive.  But with the diagnosis of dementia, it is almost assumed that all other skill sets have disappeared.  They have not.”

For those trying to understand what dementia feels like, they must recognize that individuals with dementia are “not deaf or stupid.”  Rather, they have a hard time processing and retaining information: “the components of the message do not always line up sequentially, or, from malfunction within the brain, message components simply drop out of sequence.”

Many of us walk into a room and forget why we went there. We retrace our steps, remember what we were looking for, and laugh at our absentmindedness.  Dr. Roth says that when he does the same thing, he is frustrated “knowing what the end point of any activity should be, but the forgetting of a step, or a piece of information, makes arriving at the end point impossible.”

Dr. Roth realizes that he now doubts himself and that others will then doubt his abilities as well.  He observes: “That, for any thinking adult, is the greatest pain of dementia—the loss of dignity, the loss of self-respect, the loss of the community worth of the “WHO I AM.’”

Programs recognizing a person’s dignity, self-respect, community worth, and intellectual capability are invaluable to individuals with dementia.  

Amy Sarcevic, “What Does Dementia Feel Like?”  www.informa.com

Spring At Last

“Snow melts into the earth and a gentle breeze   
Loosens the damp gum wrappers, the stale leaves   
Left over from autumn, and the dead brown grass.   
The sky shakes itself out. And the invisible birds   
Winter put away somewhere return, the air relaxes,   
People start to circulate again in twos and threes.   
The dominant feelings are the blue sky, and the year.   
—Memories of other seasons and the billowing wind;   
The light gradually altering from difficult to clear
As a page melts and a photograph develops in the backyard.” 

So writes John Koethe in his poem “The Late Wisconsin Spring.”  We are all glad to see the snow melting, the grass reappearing, the birds returning to our backyard feeders, and the boots and heavy coats being stored away again until next year.

What better thing to do than plant some flowers? This week, we got our hands in the dirt and our minds focused on thoughts of spring.

While it may be too early for our crocuses to appear (this photo was taken in Idaho earlier this week), we just have to be patient.

Research shows that people with dementia who garden show less agitation, decreased feelings of isolation, improved social interactions, increased attention spans, and maintenance of cognitive skills and interests.

Watch this space for more gardening. Allina Health just awarded Among Friends a grant for an herb garden project that we will begin in April!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Bev, Bob, Volunteer Ron, and Jan all “wearing o’ the green”

Every day is a good day at Among Friends, but holidays call for special celebrations.

On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish! So, what better thing to do but make some shamrocks?

One of the reasons Among Friends creates these fun activities is simply to enjoy each other’s company. But we are also encouraging social interaction, which is so important for individuals with dementia.

Research shows that socialization for those with dementia is very important for several reasons:

  1. To gain a greater sense of inclusiveness and belonging. Interacting with others, even if in a passive way, can lead to a greater sense of personal worth and a sense of belonging.
  2. To improve brain health. Studies show that the more people and contexts individuals with dementia, especially in the early stages, the better. These experiences may even slow down the progression of memory loss.
  3. To strengthen the connection to time and place. Socialization can give those engaged in interactions with others a normal structure and order in their lives. It stimulates the part of the brain that connects to time and place.
  4. To enhance and maintain focus. Because older people sometimes have a hard time moving from daydreams to a focused state of mind, mental activity and social engagement make that transition easier which, in turn, helps in daily tasks crucial to a sense of independence (www.anthemmemorycare.com/blog/socialization-for-dementia-care).
St. Patrick’s Day wouldn’t be complete without shamrock shakes.

Mostly, we just had a lot of fun in celebration of one our favorite holidays. If you know someone who would like to join the fun, have their families give us a call.

Fat Tuesday

In New Orleans and other parts of the Southland, Mardi Gras is a major celebration of the waning days of winter. This year, Fat Tuesday also came to River Falls.

Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Lent, which 40 days of fasting before Easter. Fat Tuesday has become a day of celebration–the last day to indulge in all your favorite foods, drinks, friends, and a good time. As the Cajuns say, “Laissez the Bons Temps Rouler,” “Let the Good Times Roll.”

We began our celebration by donning traditional Mardi Gras beads and creating masks while sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company.


A snowy February day became much brighter as we ate King Cake, laughed, and brought a little bit of New Orleans to Among Friends.

Let the Sun Shine

While the snow keeps falling and the temperatures barely reach the 20s, Among Friends had just the right remedy recently: Tropical Days!

One of our participants, Bob, just returned from his annual Hawaiian vacation. (His collection of beautiful Hawaiian shirts attest to his love of the islands.) He brought his book of photographs of the Hawaiian islands, the perfect inspiration for a celebration.

Bob shares his book of photographs with volunteer Ruth McNamara.

Staff and volunteers fashioned paper leis, made some festive tropical fruit drinks–complete with paper umbrellas–and donned sun hats.

No need to worry about the frightful weather outdoors when the tropic breezes are blowing indoors. Our special occasion gave participants lots to talk about with volunteers and with one another. And we all simply had a great time.

Intergenerational Fun

Games, art projects, and reading are always more fun when we can share them with someone. And if that someone is much older or much younger than you are, that can be even better.

Recently, Among Friends again welcomed the children of an area family who have become our regular visitors. When they aren’t playing musical instruments and singing or performing magic tricks, the children are seeking advice and talking about their art projects with our participants.


While research on the benefits of intergenerational interaction is not plentiful, it seems to confirm what we at Among Friends have experienced. Esther Heerema, MSW, author of “Therapeutic Benefits of Children For People Living with Dementia,” lists the following benefits that come through the interactions of people with dementia and children:

  • People living with dementia had a higher level of positive engagement when interacting with children.
  • Older adults without dementia demonstrate a higher frequency of smiling and conversation when interacting with preschool age children.
  • Intergenerational programming allows adults with dementia to be able to teach children things, such as how to fold a towel, how to dust handrails or how to categorize things such as by seasons or colors.
  • Interaction with older adults has also shown benefits for the children involved, including fewer behavioral challenges and improved social development.
  • Intergenerational interaction appears to serve as a meaningful activity and improve quality of life for older adults living with dementia (verywellhealth.com).

A recent study has shown that spending even one hour per week in social interaction can profoundly change and improve the lives of people with dementia. Just 60 minutes of conversation and social activity lessened agitation levels and even physical pain (AARP 7 Feb. 2018).

Among Friends allows those with memory loss to spend time with staff and volunteers engaged in meaningful activities–conversation, adapted exercise, music, crafts, games, and other projects–to promote our participants’ well-being. We come together weekly to enjoy one another’s company while giving individuals with dementia opportunities to improve the quality of their lives.

Holiday Fun

We have been busy during this holiday season while having lots of fun.  Socialization is so important for those who have memory loss.  While Among Friends focuses on meaningful activities and interactions, we also want to have fun with one another!  And we have certainly enjoyed each other’s company during December as we celebrate the holidays.

Volunteer Ruth McNamara sought the help of our participants to create beautiful Christmas centerpieces.  One of our AF regulars, never having tried anything like this before, was pretty proud of her creative contribution to the projects.

What would Christmas be without Christmas cookies?  We aren’t sure that Bob has ever made cookies before, but he sure had fun as Program Coordinator Norma Revels helped him out.

Among Friends participants and volunteers were invited guests at the annual United Church of Christ Christmas luncheon.  Not only were the Swedish meatballs and all the fixings delicious, the homemade cookies made by members of the congregation and the River Falls High School carolers made the afternoon even more enjoyable.

Holiday Songfest on Dec. 11

INCLUSIVE HOLIDAY SONGFEST

Jingle Bells, O Tannenbaum, Silent Night, Away in the Manger.  Everyone loves singing Christmas carols, bringing back memories of church pageants, school programs, and family sing-alongs.

Among Friends, a dementia respite program in River Falls, will host a songfest at First Congregational Church on December 11, 2018, at 1:30 p.m. All community members who love to sing are invited to attend, especially those who have family members with memory loss.

Come share music, fun, and treats as you enter this holiday season.

For further information, contact Norma Revels at amongfriendsrf@gmail.comor 715-293-2561.

Magicians, Musicians, and Mutts

Among Friends is a fun and varied place that its participants and volunteers look forward to every Tuesday because they never know what awaits them. Recently, the Gugala family of River Falls brought their talents to our program.  These multitalented children have shared their 4-H projects with our participants. In November, the three boys–William, Caleb, and Benjamin–performed magic tricks, an interest prompted by their reading about Wisconsin legend Harry Houdini.  They then joined their sisters Abbey and Anna, who play keyboards and guitar, to sing some songs.

The “string band” from HOPE Lutheran Church visited Among Friends in late November.    Ukuleles, acoustic guitars, and electric guitars–all creating fun for our participants, joining John Hamilton, Steve Kaste, Lynda Meyers, Pastor Sandy Johnson, Paula Klacan, Jean Loudon, and Karen Rodewald in old familiar tunes.  

HOPE Lutheran Church string band

If that wasn’t enough fun, UW-River Falls students enrolled in the Paw PADS program visited Among Friends with their furry friends.  Paw PADS–“Pawsitive Perspectives Assistance Dogs–is a new academic program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences training service dogs for people with physical mobility disabilities but also for those with diabetes, autism, as well as veterans with PTSD.  The dogs enjoyed our group, and participants really loved the dogs.  We are hoping that these pooches will be regular visitors in the future.