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Well Into the Golden Years
Forget bingo and macaroni art. Here's how three local programs are providing innovative alternative care and resources for the elderly and their families.


November 2016

Residents exploring Clare Gardens
Photography Courtesy of Milwaukee Catholic Home

Clare Gardens at Milwaukee Catholic Home

A partnership between Franciscan Friars and Milwaukee Catholic Home that launched last year, Clare Gardens covers a six-acre property in Burlington, and although there are areas dedicated to growing flowers, Clare is really more of a farm than a garden, with most of the land used for organically growing fruits and vegetables. “Our produce this year has included tomatoes, sweet corn, broccoli, peppers, spinach, herbs, melons and berries, among others,” says Therese Goode, communications coordinator at Milwaukee Catholic Home (MCH).

Managed and run by MCH staff, this new farm-to-table program benefits residents in two ways: First, it gives them access to fresh, local, organically grown produce, which is incorporated into their meals each day; and second, a visit to Clare makes for a nice day trip. “The genuine hope is that this project will add value to the services that we already provide our residents — both as an experience and in the produce that will be harvested,” says the project’s agricultural manager, A.J. Weis.

Residents visiting Clare are able to see firsthand where their food comes from, and maybe even pick and eat a few tomatoes fresh from the vine too. “I would say we have some of the best tomatoes in the world with our meals,” says Barbara Spalda, a resident who visited the gardens recently. The day trip includes a guided walking tour of the farm and a picnic lunch. “I really learned a lot about farming, but what I liked most was the camaraderie. I made friends that day that I had not even met in the home,” Spalda adds. “Being out together is a great way to get to know each other. And to top it off, I got to take home an eggplant and some carrots and tomatoes.”

The experiment has been so successful that MCH has expanded it to other partners by offering shares in Clare Gardens’ produce to retirement communities in the Milwaukee area. The staff also delivers a weekly share to the Riverwest Food Pantry, a local food-assistance ministry, through the support of Town Bank. 

“At Milwaukee Catholic Home, we emphasize whole-person wellness, and healthy eating is a significant part of that,” says CEO Dave Fulcher. “Clare Gardens has transformed our residents’ dining experience, and has also enabled Milwaukee Catholic Home to forge deeper connections in the community.”

Home Instead: Let’s Talk About Driving

As a kid, I remember playing in the street and having to stop whatever game we were playing while Mr. Curtis backed his cream-colored Rambler out of the driveway. He was well into his 80s, and the operation took forever. Once I even watched him slowly back his car straight into a car parked across the street. He clearly shouldn’t have been driving, and someone in his family should have told him so.

“That’s a tricky conversation to have,” says Sandy Borkovetz, home care consultant at Home Instead. “For many seniors, the idea of giving up driving is depressing and something they fight off doing. Many times, they’re not even aware that they’re endangering themselves and others.”

To help families navigate the situation, Home Instead Senior Care network launched a new public education program called Let’s Talk About Driving. The idea formed after a Home Instead survey of seniors found that 95 percent of them had not discussed driving with anyone, even though nearly one-third said they would consider stopping if a family member recommended it.

The Home Instead program offers families free advice and resources to help adult children have a respectful, productive conversation with the senior about road safety. “When family members have these conversations early on, it helps create a road map for seniors to continue driving safely for as long as possible, rather than just showing up one day and taking away the keys,” adds Borkovetz.

One of the most useful resources is a list of the 10 warning signs indicating that seniors may be unsafe on the road. These include such things as the appearance of mysterious dents on the car, increased irritation and agitation when driving, riding the brakes or difficulty backing up. For more information, visit Home Instead’s dedicated website:


Memory Cafés at the Jewish Home and Care Center

A Memory Café is a place where people with memory loss, mild cognitive impairment, early-onset Alzheimer’s, or other forms of dementia can meet their family and friends to enjoy a drink and each other’s company. The first Memory Café opened in the Netherlands in the late 1990s. Today there are more than 200 Memory Cafés in the U.S.

Most Memory Cafés meet monthly for a couple of hours. Last year, the Jewish Home and Care Center’s Adult Day Center — together with Milwaukee County Parks, the Alzheimer’s Association, Aging and Disability Resource Centers and the Milwaukee County Department on Aging — celebrated the opening of its first Memory Café.

“Memory Cafés are comfortable, fun and interesting events that the care partners and the person with memory loss can do together. It connects them with others who are experiencing the same difficulties, and with organizations like ours, that can make their journey smoother and (more) supportive,” says Dawn Adler, Adult Day Center director at the Jewish Home and Care Center.

According to Adler, some of the attendees do not need the full services of the Jewish Home’s Adult Day Center. “They just need a place where they can enjoy themselves, work on cognition and memory strategies, and develop new friendships,” she says.

Mark Barr is a perfect example. “Because the Memory Café is off-site and in a neutral environment, it makes me feel like I’m just out there with my friends, hearing some songs, learning about nutrition and yoga or something,” he says. “It is a group event, but it is smaller and run by people not part of the everyday staff. I feel connected — the whole feeling is (like) I am out in this public space drinking a beer, saying, ‘We are people too.’”

Mark’s wife, Colleen, says that although her husband is a natural introvert, he now seeks out these experiences. “Anyone — of any age, race, religion, education, social or financial status — would feel comfortable and benefit,” she says. “It gives a community of sufferers a chance to stop suffering for a time, and carry a new memory home. And their family member, friend or caregiver gets to see their loved one enjoying life. It’s really very uplifting.”

Memory Cafés are held at various locations throughout the Milwaukee area, often meeting monthly. Registration is required for first-time attendees. For detailed information or to register, call the Alzheimer’s Association at (800) 272-3900 or visit


This story ran in the November 2016 issue of: