A group of senior citizens gathers at North Park Presbyterian Church each Tuesday morning. With the help of volunteers they exercise, play games, share stories, eat lunch and sing.

They know the words to “Polly Wolly Doodle” and how to play bingo, but some of them can’t remember what happened yesterday, the names of their grandchildren, or what they did during their career.

Participants in this weekly gathering, called Casa de Vida, are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia. North Park Presbyterian’s program offers a fun, safe place for them to socialize while giving their caregivers a much-needed break.

“The people who care for [people with Alzheimer’s] are the ones who have a hard time,” says Molly Stewart, who brought Casa de Vida to the church. “The ones with Alzheimer’s, they don’t know. [The caregivers] can’t get out. They can’t leave the people alone.”

Stewart learned about this when her good friend’s husband began suffering from Alzheimer’s. With her friend, she visited several day programs for people with Alzheimer’s, but they either were too expensive or the other participants had progressed too far into the disease.

Then Stewart and her friend learned of a program similar to Casa de Vida in Austin. Stewart gathered all of the facts and took them to North Park Presbyterian, where she attends. After lots of research, the church board adopted it as a mission program.

Casa de Vida opened in February 2007 with five participants. They now have eight, with room for 10 more.

“We have a congregation with a lot of white hairs — you know, we’re getting older,” says Ann Anderson, who is co-director of the program with Nick Harper.

The program fit the demographics of the church, Anderson says. But it’s open to the community and most of the participants aren’t church members.

“They are wonderful to us,” Stewart says of the church. “They’ve stepped out and made this available to the whole community; it’s not just for Presbyterians.”

The program is volunteer-led, and everyone involved has gone through extensive training, Stewart says.

For the participants, there is a very strict screening process. They must meet 10 criteria, including living at home, toileting by themselves, feeding themselves and not needing medication while at the program. They spend their day with a companion, a volunteer who quickly becomes a friend and stays with them the entire time they are at the church.
“We have a happy spirit,” Anderson says. “That’s the best part of it.”

Casa de Vida
when/ Every Tuesday, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
where/ North Park Presbyterian Church, 9555 N. Central Expwy.
cost/ $10 per session, but no one is turned away for financial reasons
for more information/ Call Ann Anderson at 972.783.8780 or Nick Harper at 214.349.6584


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