‘House of Friends’ helps dementia patients, families
Sept. 19, 2006
|A UMNS photo by Kim Griffis
Dancing is a popular activity at the House of Friends.
is a popular activity at the House of Friends, a respite ministry of
Bethany United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. The ministry serves
caregivers and their loved ones with dementia, who spend four hours a
week participating in stimulating activities while the caregivers get a
break. A UMNS photo by Kim Griffis. Photo #06-1096. Accompanies UMNS
story #560. 9/19/06|
A UMNS Feature
By Lilla Marigza*
Louise Sellars and her friends forget sometimes why they are wearing
flower leis around their necks. They are dressed for a Hawaiian luau at
the “House of Friends.”
All of the “friends” at this weekly gathering suffer from dementia. Some
are in various stages of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Bethany
United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, provides activities designed
for seniors like Sellars.
“I talk to a lot of people, and I just enjoy myself,” she says. “It’s
helping me — it really is. I am coming out of my shell a little bit.”
The group has time each week for arts, crafts, music, snacks and
conversation. Volunteers are close by as participants paint watercolor
pictures of Hawaiian scenes.
A volleyball net, with chairs on either side, is set up in one of the
three designated meeting rooms. After brief stretching, the friends
share a volleyball game, bouncing a balloon across the net. The exercise
nourishes both body and mind.
“I love the House of Friends,” Sellars says. “It’s a nice place and a
nice group of people. We’re busy from the time we get there until the
time we leave.”
Her daughter, Sandy Fritz, says the House of Friends has given her mom a
whole new peer group and outlook on life. “I know my mother felt very
isolated, like she was the only one experiencing this. Before we found
the House of Friends, we were more frightened … more homebound. We had a
lot of concerns about my mother not having enough social interaction.”
A weekly respite
Church members say the House of Friends grew out of a support group for
families caring for loved ones with dementia. The round-the-clock care
these seniors require can pose hardships for families trying to provide
that care. The program was designed to give these caregivers a weekly
respite. While Sellars enjoys the luau with the friends, her husband and
daughter can also enjoy much-needed time off.
|A UMNS photo by Kim Griffis
After 56 years of marriage, Louise and Ben Sellars are dealing with Louise's recent diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.
Fritz, a widow, sold her home to move in with her parents. “I found
myself in a position a lot of my peers are finding themselves in,” she
says. “We have aging parents that we do not wish to be
56 years of marriage, Louise and Ben Sellars are dealing with Louise's
recent diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. They participate in the House
of Friends respite care ministry at Bethany United Methodist Church in
Austin, Texas. The program is for caregivers and their loved ones with
dementia, who spend four hours a week participating in stimulating
activities while the caregivers get a break. A UMNS photo by Kim
Griffis. Photo #06-1097. Accompanies UMNS story #560. 9/19/06|
Bethany Care Ministries Pastor David Lutz says the support the program
keeps families together by sustaining caregivers who often suffer
burnout. “Because it’s 24-7, it makes it extremely difficult for a
person who is a caregiver…,” he says. After about three years, they have
to put their loved one in a care facility, he says.
Fritz says the weekly program at Bethany United Methodist gives her and
her father a break. “For Dad and I, we are much more relaxed. We are
better able to cope with the day-to-day things that naturally surround a
person with dementia. It gives us a four-hour window every week when we
know we are going to have mother in a happy and safe spiritual
environment where she is going to be among her peers and engaged in
activities that she dearly loves.”
Fritz runs a business from home and uses the weekly break to update her
Web site and catch up on orders. Her father, Ben Sellars, likes to play
golf and have lunch with a friend. As Ben enjoys his leisure time, he
takes comfort in knowing his wife is having fun too. “We are really
pleased with her eagerness to go each week.”
The House of Friends is offered, free of charge, to participants of all
faiths. The ministry is supported by donations and grants.
Heartbreak and joy
Church members would like to expand the program to reach more families,
but the biggest challenge is finding enough volunteers. Burnout can be a
problem for them too. The work is rewarding but emotionally exhausting.
Pastor Lutz says it’s tough to keep morale up.
“The discouraging part of the program is you know people in the program
are not going to get better,” he says. “They are going to deteriorate.
After a certain period of time, they leave and go into a care facility,
or a number of them have passed away.”
|A UMNS photo by Kim Griffis
House of Friends participants play balloon volleyball.
Church member Susie Peterson founded the House of Friends ministry after
years of caring for her parents, who both suffered from dementia. She
recognizes the emotions the volunteers feel when they see participants
decline. “It’s caused a lot of tears and a lot of sadness. We have had
workshops on grief and loss. We learn along the way, and we grow.”
volleyball is a form of fun and exercise for those with dementia, who
spend four hours each week at the House of Friends program at Bethany
United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. The care respite ministry is
designed to give participants a stimulated and safe environment, while
their family caregivers get a break. A UMNS photo by Kim Griffis. Photo
#06-1098. Accompanies UMNS story #560. 9/19/06|
While the job is demanding, Peterson says a dedicated group of
volunteers finds the rewards here week after week. “It brings us a lot
of joy to be touching other people’s lives,” she says. The volunteers
range in age from 15 to 90. Usually the encouragement they need is found
in knowing the difference they are making for the participants and
Louise Sellars gives a big smile at the mention of her weekly visit to
the House of Friends. “I love it. I really love it. They could have it
every day; it would be fine with me.”
Her daughter says the whole family is grateful for these “friends.” “She
is flourishing,” Fritz says, “and because of this respite that we get,
Dad and I are flourishing.”
*Marigza is a freelance producer in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or firstname.lastname@example.org.