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Providing hope, one conversation at a time

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Pat Sneller is a woman on a mission.  She has to be.  Ever since her husband Lee was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in February 2009, the Flower Mound resident has worked tirelessly to find hope and answers.

The difficulty began when the Snellers were living in California and Lee was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in 2005. 

Both Pat and Lee have Alzheimer’s prevalent in their family trees.  Pat’s father died of Alzheimer’s and so did Lee’s mother and grandmother.  Because of this, they participated in a clinical research study at UT Southwestern and when they did, the news of Lee’s diagnosis was a shock.

“I don’t believe anybody expects to hear that,” Lee said. “When I found out, the first thing I did was cry.”

But that didn’t get either of them down.  Both Lee and Pat believe the key to living with Alzheimer’s is to come to a certain acceptance about the situation and make the best out of the hand life deals you.  “Once you come to acceptance, it gives you time to plan financially, legally, bucket list-wise,” said Pat.

The couple relocated to Bridlewood in 2007 to be closer to family and hit the trail, traveling throughout the United States speaking about life with Alzheimer’s, spreading hope through a simple slogan:  The End of Alzheimer’s Begins with Me, One Family at a Time.

A powerful message, for sure, but how can such a task be accomplished? 

The challenge is that many who have been diagnosed choose to either deny it or hide it from public knowledge; a problem Pat believes creates social isolation for the special group who need social interaction more than ever. 

“People are hungry for social interaction,” she explained.  “So many people with Alzheimer’s hide.  They’re embarrassed, afraid, and don’t want people to know.”

Talking about it is key.  “Telling people about it makes things simpler,” Lee explained.

But this need to talk soon caused another dilemma – finding a suitable venue.

Finding a place to meet other people in a similar situation became the spark that led to the creation of the Memory Café. 

“I heard of Memory Cafés when we were in California,” Pat said, “but I couldn’t find any groups here.”

So what did she do?  She started her own – first in Richardson and soon the group expanded to include Lewisville, Plano and Allen.

“Lee is a social guy and this gives him the opportunity to have a conversation in a safe place.  If he meets you and then reintroduces himself five minutes later, it’s okay.  Everybody understands each other there and it’s good for everybody.”

So why don’t more people know about the Memory Café?  After all, according to www.alz.org, Alzheimer’s disease is amazingly the 6th leading cause of death in the United States today, affecting over five million people.

“We need to get the word out and let people know there is support in the area,” Pat said.

Ideal candidates for the Café are anyone who is concerned or has questions about memory problems to those clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the early stages or any one of the multiple forms of dementia.

The Memory Café strives to be informational, but that’s not the main purpose of meeting, according to Pat.  “We have activities, but limit the time on those.  The group is there to socialize and they need that time to just relax and talk.”

If you or a loved one are concerned about memory and want a safe place to meet, visit the Memory Café during one of their monthly meetings.

What: Lewisville Memory Café
Where: Lewisville Senior Center, 1950-A Valley Parkway, Lewisville, TX 75067
When: Third Friday of every month
Time: 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
For More Information: Lewisville Senior Center (972) 219-5050 or Patti Dickson at (972) 941-7335

For more information about Alzheimer’s signs and symptoms, visit www.alz.org.

If you are a caregiver, visit www.thirdageservices.com for resources and help.

Shelley Kaehr is a longtime Lewisville resident and Associate Agent for Nationwide Insurance Randall Crane & Associates.

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