Blog

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.

Seasonal Fun

With the holidays coming quickly, the participants and volunteers at Among Friends have been having fun.

In anticipation of Halloween, some of us decorated pumpkins while recollecting memorable Halloweens of our pasts.

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We are also anticipating the upcoming Christmas season.  One of our volunteers is a great card maker and has been sharing her skills with the volunteers for months. We have been making Christmas cards for a local non-profit rehabilitation center so that their residents will have beautiful cards to send to their families during the holidays.

We have also been wrapping boxes for Christmas presents to be sent to needy individuals, boxes to be filled with donations from church and community members.

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For those participants who aren’t so crafty, we have our weekly Euchre game, Yahtzee competition, and our afternoon movies specially chosen by volunteers.

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Among Friends Celebrates One Year Anniversary

October marks the one-year anniversary of the Among Friends Social Respite Program in River Falls. We thought this would be a good time to reflect on the journey that allows us to celebrate this milestone by sharing a bit of the story of how the Among Friends program came to be.

Three years ago a conversation started around the local need for a respite care program to support caregivers of individuals with memory loss.   As far as we knew, no such program existed in the River Falls area.  As a result of this conversation, a group of passionate individuals came together and began to learn more about the scope of the local need for individuals with memory loss and to better understand existing services and resources. When Pierce County social workers confirmed that there were no respite care programs for families in our area, it prompted a question and a challenge.

What would it take to develop and implement a respite care program in Pierce County?

A committee was formed.  Its purpose to respond to a need and its vision to create a respite care program in Pierce County.

We visited with other respite programs, met with dementia care specialists, and began to create a road map with the hope that we could turn our vision into reality. But we had so many questions!

  • Who would participate in our program?
  • What would the program day look like?
  • When would we be able to offer services?
  • Where would the program be located?
  • How would we fund the program?

We worked through these and many other questions, and in October 2017 we began with our first Among Friends participants.

The program is an adult social-model day respite program.

  • Sessions are currently offered one day per week (Tuesdays) from 9:00am-3:00pm and located at the First Congregational Church. 110 North 3rd St. River Falls, WI.  We hope to add more days as the program continues to grow.
  • The cost of the program is $35 per session and includes snacks and a hot lunch meal.  Financial assistance may be available.
  • There are currently 9 participants enrolled.  Activities are customized to participants’ desires and abilities.  A Program Coordinator is on site and oversees volunteers and activities during the program day.  The Program Coordinator conducts an initial intake interview during a home visit with the potential participant and caregiver and communicates regularly with caregivers whose loved ones are enrolled in the program.

We are extremely fortunate to have an amazing group of committed volunteers who share their time and talents with our participants.

  • We have a certified yoga instructor who leads us in chair yoga each week.
  • We have a group of volunteers who play Euchre.
  • There is live music every week, and we had a wonderful patriotic sing-a-long 4th of July week with 45 people in attendance!
  • We have made greeting cards for a local non-profit and made squares for a quilt.
  • We’ve released monarch butterflies into the church garden and had gentle and friendly canine visitors.
  • We have storytellers and movies, and we especially enjoyed participating in activities with the children during Vacation Bible School.
  • We just completed training with a group of student volunteers from the UWRF Communicative Disorders program, and we are looking forward to the energy and creativity they will bring as they engage with our participants.

We are so grateful to everyone who has been a part of and continues to be a part of this incredible journey.  We welcome anyone who has interest in participating to contact Program Coordinator, Norma Revels, for more information.  715-293-2561. 

A recent comment to an Among Friends Facebook post supports the value that the program provides.  The comment is from a caregiver who has had her loved one in the Among Friends program for the past full year.  She said, “Among Friends has changed our lives.  Thank you”

 

We Are Busy

quiltWith the help of our creative and enthusiastic volunteers, participants enjoy working on various projects.  The quilt pictured here features squares each made by one of our Among Friends participants.

Because some of our group enjoy woodworking, a community member who makes birdhouses brings them to our program for sanding and other finishing touches before they are painted.

Sometimes we work on some practical projects like assembling new chairs that Among Friends has purchased for the program.  Our participants haven’t lost their handy skills acquired over the years.

Some members of our group prefer listening to stories and music, looking at vintage photographs, or recounting their experience aboard Navy ships.

No matter what the activity, participants and volunteers have fun while learning from one another.