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Student brings new dementia resource programs to southeast Texas

Natalie Sfeir, a junior speech-language pathology major from Beaumont, will host a Community Resource Day for individuals living with dementia and their loved ones at the Lamar University Speech and Hearing Building July 13 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Natalie Sfeir“My fellowship empowered me to create something that will benefit the southeast Texas community, and it’s the first of its kind in our area—a memory café. It’s so important for those affected by dementia and their loved ones to enjoy some quality time together in a judgment-free zone and to have access to resources in the area,” said Sfeir.

The project is a part of Sfeir’s work as a recipient of the 2017 David J. Beck Fellowship, which covers all school expenses such as tuition, fees, books and on-campus room and board for one year and includes up to $10,000 to pursue a project.

Sfeir’s mentors are Ashley Dockens, assistant professor of audiology, and Karen Whisenhunt Saar, instructor of speech-language pathology and director of clinical services. Her project involves studying community dementia cafes in Europe and Minnesota to understand support techniques and implementing her findings in southeast Texas.

Her project included studying various community dementia resources in Ireland and Minnesota including observation of memory cafes, working with management to observe adult day centers for those affected by different stages of dementia, working closely with the Alzheimer Society of Dublin and Alzheimer Society of Donegal, working alongside dementia care specialists, attending dementia social clubs, and attending various caregiving training conferences to understand support techniques and implement her findings in southeast Texas.

She spent time in Roseville, Minnesota meeting with the city manager and director of the Roseville Alzheimer Society to learn about transforming cities into a dementia-friendly environment, and met with the CEO of Alzheimer Speaks to learn more about the initiative. She also received training in effective communication strategies and empathy from the House of Memories in Liverpool, England.

Sfeir recalls her favorite memory to be singing along with the Forget-Me-Nots Choir, a community choir for those in various stages of dementia, in Baldoyle, Ireland and performing a solo and meeting the CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and seeing his work in action.

“The reason this project is so meaningful is that it can really make a difference in the lives of those affected by dementia, their caregivers, and their loved ones. It will act as a ‘home away from home’ by providing support and comfort,” said Sfeir.

Sfeir says she anticipates many more dementia care programs to come. She will host a memory café July 24 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to create “Memory Matters” memory books, which are useful memory tools for those affected by dementia.

“I hope that both of these events and the memory café will bring the community together to learn about resources in our area,” said Sfeir.

“The memory café will be a staple in our speech and hearing department and continue to be sustainable source of comfort to our neighbors living with dementia,” she said.