“The Network” is an auxiliary of MemoryCare that provides peer support to caregivers who have loved ones with dementia, community education about dementia care, and volunteer support for MemoryCare community functions. They have three caregiver support groups run by Mary Donnelly and Pat Hilgendorf that meet monthly and they publish an e-newsletter with information about caregiving.
The Network’s Story
The MemoryCaregivers Network began in 2007 when a group of MemoryCare caregivers got together and established the MemoryCaregivers Network. For the first three years of its existence, The Network was a volunteer entity with goals of providing peer support to participants, educating the community about dementia from a caregiver’s perspective and helping fundraise for MemoryCare’s operations. The group functioned independently of MemoryCare until May of 2010 when they received grant funding that was administered through MemoryCare and facilitated hiring a Network coordinator. Through a combination of grants, fund raising events, donations from Network participants and designated donations from MemoryCare donors the group the group has remained a source of support to the community.
While a little more than half of the Network attendees are enrolled with MemoryCare, it is not a requirement. All Network groups are open to anyone caring for a person with a memory disorder. “We have spouses, children, siblings, partners, and friends,” say Donnelly and Hilgendorf, “all of whom are there because they are caring for, or concerned about, a loved one.” Some of the Network members live with their loved ones, some are living nearby, and some live across the country. Some have been dealing with dementia for several years, others are new to the challenges. “It’s wonderful to see how the ‘upperclassmen,’ the ones who have been coming for a while, help the new folks. The collective wisdom in the room is remarkable. Everyone tries to help everyone else. Occasionally we have a caregiver who isn’t comfortable yet sharing with family and friends about the disease, so our group may be all they have.”
“Support groups are very helpful when you’re dealing with a disease like dementia,” says Hilgendorf. “Most people don’t understand this disease, so it can get very lonely. But we laugh together, cry together, and share information about how we can make life easier for all concerned. It’s as much an education group as it is a support group.”
The Network is a peer led group administered through MemoryCare. There are many other excellent organizations in our community that are not under the auspices of MemoryCare but that serve the memory impaired population in our region. These include but are not limited to The Alzheimer’s Association, Land of Sky Regional Council, Mission Hospital’s Caring for Aging Parents Education and Support (CAPES), Project C.A.R.E., adult day programs, and more. The Memory Loss Collaborative is coordinated by Jane Sherman and offers a place for those with early memory loss to meet together and talk about the challenges they are facing. We are fortunate to live in a community with many resources for aging adults and appreciate opportunities for collaboration.