Inge DeVeaux is passionate about Memory Lane, the activities program she manages for people suffering from Alzheimer's, dementia and other disabling diseases. This is why she is so troubled by the ominous fact that unless she finds more participants, her program could be just a memory.
Three times a week, participants, who must be over 55 and disabled, are dropped off by their caregivers at First Southern Baptist Church. There, they spend the next five hours engaged in activities that are intended to stimulate their minds.
Although Memory Lane serves seniors with a variety of disabilities, it is especially vital to those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and their caregivers, who get a much-needed break from what is often a 24-hour-a-day job.
"We do things that stimulate memory, like games, flash cards and trivia," DeVeaux said. "We do crafts and puzzles and have meals and snacks together."
DeVeaux took the job as program manager a year ago when she decided that she wanted to work with the older residents of Payson.
"I like to be needed and to help people," DeVeaux said. "I could not take care of my parents in Germany when they got ill. I've never really forgiven myself for that and, with this job, I feel like I'm kind of making up for that," she said.
This is just a part of what makes Memory Lane so important to DeVeaux.
"My husband suffered from Alzheimer's for 18 years. He was so bright and intelligent, and to watch him deteriorate was heartbreaking," DeVeaux said.
Taking care of a husband with Alzheimer's at home for 13 of the 18 years, DeVeaux understands the stress of being the caregiver for a loved one who needs constant surveillance.
"Not all, but many with Alzheimer's wander, and my husband was a wanderer, so he needed constant supervision," DeVeaux said. "Memory Lane gives the caregiver some relief, so they can spend the time taking care of themselves."
DeVeaux likes to show off the artwork done by her participants. "I use stencils to outline the pictures, and let them color them in," DeVeaux stated, pointing to the colorful pictures that adorn the walls of her room.
"I also take participants to Green Valley Park once a week and we stop at the feed store for some cracked corn to feed the ducks," DeVeaux said. "They absolutely love that."
Sometimes on Thursdays, a musician will volunteer his or her time to entertain the group.
A typical day at Memory Lane starts with coffee, tea and juice, as well as rolls and muffins. DeVeaux and a volunteer begin a discussion, or start a craft project. At noon, DeVeaux cooks a balanced lunch of meat, potatoes, two kinds of vegetables and fruit. After the meal, comes game time and a snack of pudding or ice cream.
Laveta Stemm, assistant program director of Gila Aging Services, believes in the benefits of the Memory Lane program.
"It gives socialization to people who need it," she said. "It's a safety zone away from home where participants can be with other people like themselves and feel comfortable. Also, when you give caregivers the relief they need, it can keep those who need the care at home longer and out of institutions."
"Once people go into institutions, most really don't do very well," DeVeaux said.
Another key element of Memory Lane is that studies suggest that keeping the brain stimulated can slow the progression of Alzheimer's and other related conditions.
"It has been proven that these kind of activities in a group setting slows down the process of Alzheimer's and dementia," Stemm said.
Memory Lane is free to seniors who make under $1,000 a month. Those with a higher income can call DeVeaux to see what the cost would be with their particular financial situation.
With the valuable service that Memory Lane provides, and one that is free to many, DeVeaux is at a loss as to why she has so few participants.
"I need more people or else we will lose this service," said a teary-eyed DeVeaux. "I know there are so many in this town who need what Memory Lane provides. It's not about losing my job, it's about losing this service. I just really care about the people."