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Eric and Bernadette Russow, Memory Cafe, Walk Committee, Elkhorn

“I want to teach our community to take care of our elders who suffer from dementia.”
Eric and Bernadette have been volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association for over 13 years. They were first involved working on the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Walworth County helping with recruitment, promotion and raising funds.

They last several years though, they shifted their focus from development to programming and helped to create a Memory Cafe in Elkhorn. Memory Cafe’s offer a fun and relaxed way for people living with early-stage memory loss and their caregivers to get connected with one another through social events that promote interaction and companionship. “Often people with dementia start to exile themselves,” says Eric. “The Memory Cafe gets people out and moving and chatting with others. We find that each month when people come back they begin to look for the friends they met at the last cafe and are more open to socializing.”

Each month the programming may change, but group discussion and projects are always on the agenda at the Memory Cafe.  Bernadette fondly recalls one engagement, “We had one gentleman who talked very little at the Memory Cafe, but one month we did a painting project. Initially, he didn’t want to paint, but eventually he picked up a brush. Once he started painting, he began chatting (to the surprise of his wife) and created a beautiful piece. He had found his niche.” Since the first Memory Cafe in Walworth was started, six more have been created, most with training from Eric and Bernadette.  

They also lead the Dementia Friendly Community Initiative, Inc. and have trained over 4,000 people in Walworth County. Their training focuses on creating a dementia-friendly community and giving people techniques, skills and conflict resolution strategies for working with people with dementia. They offer training to any community groups including businesses, law enforcement and civic organizations. “Most recently we’ve been working with businesses that go into individuals homes, such as Heating and Cooling businesses and moving companies,” says Eric. They are also active at health fairs and community events.

The Russow’s have a personal connection to the mission. Bernadette’s father, grandmother and great grandmother all suffered from dementia. “Years ago there wasn’t information about dementia for families,” says Bernadette.  “I want to teach our community to take care of our elders who suffer from dementia – we’re a community and a family.”