Old Friends Club is bringing affordable client-centered care to Eastside families dealing with dementia. They plan to open their doors later this month in the Rose Hill neighborhood bordering Kirkland and Redmond. The innovative non-profit that celebrates strengths and commonalities of those living with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive challenges, will initially be open on Mondays and Thursdays, adding days as need arises.
Old Friends Club Members attend a fun, small social group from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. They meet for conversation, arts, exercise and lunch in a safe, supportive space while providing time off for family caregivers to renew their energies. Those interested in participating should contact Executive Director Karen Koenig at 425- 681-9776 or email firstname.lastname@example.org by April 23 to begin the following week.
This compassionate program can make a significant difference for someone living with Alzheimer’s or other communication challenges. Old Friends Club members get out of the house for a dynamic day among friends. One member expressed gratitude for the companionship: “My friends were gone and now I’ve made new ones.” Another expressed encouragement in “…being able to talk and share. I haven’t been able to do that for a long time.”
It can also mean keeping loved ones at home longer and avoiding institutional alternatives. Old Friends Club can help with this by reducing the emotional and financial costs families bear. This is a 24/7 experience for many family caregivers. Most are unpaid, and caregiving agencies can average $30/hour, an amount some families must pay out of pocket for relief.
Old Friends Club charges a monthly membership fee, which works out to about half of what homecare might cost, and a fraction of nursing care. Koenig keeps costs down by working with community agencies, churches and senior centers to donate or share services at reduced rates. She also relies on key staff and trained volunteers to promote a culture of kindness and a fun attitude that has been the trademark of the Old Friends Club she opened in Carnation last fall.
Koenig says, “We support family caregivers to take care of themselves as well as they do for others.” She says caring for her own parents encouraged her to seek out solutions. She noticed when her father had to enter a nursing care facility, even just temporarily for antibiotic treatments, his emotional health and that of the family would decline. She noted the loss of dignity, privacy and individuality, and created her first business plan out of that experience.
“It’s important for people to have a sense of community, to know they are not alone,” says Koenig. According to recent statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association, they are not alone. One in nine people over age 65 is now diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. One of every three people dies with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. And caregiving is the largest, and most invisible, job on the planet.
One caregiver, Trudie, whose husband eventually needed around the clock care, described Old Friends Club like this: “It has been a godsend for both of us. He loves coming to the program and I know he is safe while I am at work. It is a great stress reliever for me personally.”
It is a labor of love for Koenig and the small staff she employs. “Dementia and other challenges of a declining mind or body can overwhelm a household with daily hardships. Old Friends Club is designed to ease those hardships while giving the member a place to feel safe and comfortable, heard and respected,” says Koenig.
Old Friends Club is welcoming new members at both locations:
Tolt Congregational Church, 4851 Tolt Ave, Carnation, Mon/Tues/Thurs, 9:30-2:30 and Lake Washington United Methodist Church, 7525 132nd Ave NE, Kirkland, Mon/Thurs, 9:30-2:30.
Old Friends Club holds occasional fundraisers to help with expenses and so they can offer assistance to some low-income applicants. Anyone is welcome to contribute by going to OldFriendsClub.org. There you can find more information about the program and how to join, give or volunteer. Kirkland’s Northwest Cellars is also helping out with a Wine Tasting Fundraiser for Old Friends Club on Saturday, April 23, from 1-5 p.m. Tickets available at http://www.northwestcellars.com/events/event-sign-up.html