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Memory Cafe offers support for those caring for loved ones with memory loss

June 07, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Michele Quattrociocchi is caregiver to her mother, Norma Sauer. Through Memory Cafe, a group that meets for meals, Quattrociocchi is able to find support from others who are caregivers to loved ones with memory loss.
Kevin G. Gilbert /

Norma Sauer has no short-term memory, doesn’t know her address or phone number and constantly asks the whereabouts of her mother, father and siblings, who are all deceased.

She paces throughout the house, often is easily distracted and can change from an angel to a devil in a heartbeat.

There are daily challenges, safety issues and emotional upheaval.

But there also is a lot of patience and love.

For the past five years, the 96-year-old Hagerstown woman has lived in a world that she often doesn’t recognize.

She has dementia.

There are sweet, peaceful moments in her life. But often those moments quickly are replaced with anxiety and willfulness, confusion and lack of recall — as if a door in her brain closed and can’t be opened.

It’s a journey few people would want to travel.

But as a caregiver, the journey is just as difficult.

Most days are stressful, Michele Quattrociocchi, Sauer’s daughter and primary caregiver, admitted.

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Her mother is now at stage 6 on the global deterioration scale, Quattrociocchi said, which means her memory continues to worsen, personality changes have taken place and she needs help with daily activities -— from getting dressed to bathing.

“She also will not let me out of her sight,” Quattrociocchi said. “She is like my shadow. She will call for me if I leave the room.”

Despite the fact that Quattrociocchi has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and understands what a diagnosis of dementia involves, that doesn’t change the fact that being caregiver to someone with memory loss can be like running in a marathon. It’s a long and grueling experience and you learn to pace yourself.

It’s a role most people don’t think about, until life hits them in the face with responsibility.

And although millions of Americans serve as caregivers, you can often feel isolated, Quattrociocchi said.

But a monthly meal at a local restaurant has made her, and others, feel less alone.

Recently, Quattrociocchi was among 26 caregivers, patients, family members and professionals who attended a Memory Cafe luncheon — an opportunity to leave memory loss disorders at the door and focus on relaxation, support and a meal.

The first Memory Cafe was started in the Netherlands in 1997 and began popping up across the United States in 2008.  It recently came to Washington County, where it has been organized by K.C. Ryerson, president and founder of the networking organization Hagerstown Coffee Talk — a group established to assist elder-care service providers in Western Maryland.  She also is community relations director for Broadmore Senior Living in Hagerstown.

Helping to support Memory Cafe is Cathy Hanson, program coordinator for the Frederick and Hagerstown offices of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Ryerson noted that while there are many educational events supporting caregivers who take care of loved ones with dementia, “caregiving can be very isolating. Eventually, caregivers and their loved ones become isolated in their own homes. There are few opportunities that a caregiver will have to be from under the cloud of the disability of Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

The Memory Cafe, she said, offers that escape.

Ryerson said the luncheon is not only a social experience, but a supportive, open forum.

“It is the missing piece to the caregiver’s toolbox,” she said.  “It is an environment where everyone is warm and friendly and we share positive experiences.”

Quattrociocchi said she was given a brochure about Memory Cafe and was thrilled to learn such an outlet was available.

“The caregivers can share, in a safe environment, a nice time together and also meet others who have the same experience,” she said. “I have been wanting this experience for a few years now and am happy to see it come to Hagerstown.”

The Hagerstown woman noted that being a caregiver to someone with memory loss is a situation that only others in the same situation can fully understand.

“My mother’s dementia and memory loss are severe,” Quattrociocchi said.  “She has a lot of anxiety. She suffers Sundowner’s Syndrome and her anxiety is great around 5:30 p.m. and escalates. She constantly asks where her mom and dad are, where her siblings are, wants cookies to eat and I need to redirect her — find things that interest her. Bedtime is a fight, and she’s like a child who doesn’t want to go to sleep.”

Sometimes, she said, it’s a funny comedy. While watching a movie starring Robert DeNiro, she said she knows him from when they both worked at the telephone company.

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